You use the definite article (the) with a noun that you already mentioned and the indefinite article (a or an) with a noun that is undefined. These are the basic rules, but there are others that you should know.
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On the previous page, you learned that the definite article (“the”) is used before a noun that is specific. For example, when you say “the car” or “the car John drives,” your are not talking about just any car; it is a specific car.
When you talk about a non-specific noun, you use the indefinite article (a/an). So, when you say, “John drives a nice car,” it could be any car. The focus is on John, not on the car he drives.
If you and I talk about John’s car and later you see a similar car on the street, you could say, “Look! That’s the car John that drives.”
Rule 1. Specific or not specific
This is the rule you have just learned on the previous page and above. When the noun is specific or known, use the. When the noun is not specific, use a or an.
Not specific. John has a fast car.
Specific. That’s the car John drives.
Rule 2. Countries and geographical names with “the”
This is not a strict rule. Sometimes you use “the” with some countries, large regions, deserts, ocieans, mountain ranges, groups of islands, and so on. You must use “the” with some geographical names but not with others.
the Amazon (River)
the Arabian Desert
See more examples below.
the Czech Replublic
the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC or Congo-Kinshasa)
the Ivory Coast
the Maldives (or the Maldive Islands)
the People’s Republic of China
the Republic of the Congo (or the Congo Republic)
the United Arab Emirates
the United Kingdom (the UK)
the United States (the US)
the Archipelago of the Recherche
the Aleutian Islands
the Banzhou Archipelago
the Bissagos Islands
the British Isles
the Canary Islands (or the Canaries)
the Coco Islands
the Faroe Islands (or the Faroes)
the Malay Archipelago
the Virgin Islands
Notes. An “archipelago” /ˌɑɚkəˈpɛləˌgoʊ/ is a group of islands. Another name for “island” is “isle,” which you often see used with proper nouns.
the Caspian Sea
the English Channel
the Gulf of Mexico
the Mediterranean (Sea)
the Mississippi (River)
the Nile (River)
the Arabian Desert
the Atacama (Desert)
the Gobi (Desert)
the Kalahari (Desert)
the Mojave (Desert)
the Namib (Desert)
the Patagonian (Desert)
the Sahara (Desert)
the Sonoran (Desert)
the Thar (Desert)
the Carpathian Montains
the Cascades (or the Cacade Range)
the Rockies (or the Rocky Montains)
the Scottish Highlands
the Sulaiman Montains
the American South
the north of Canada
the Middle East
the Pacific Ring of Fire (or the Rim of Fire)
the South Pole
the Tropic of Cancer
the Tropic of Capricorn
Rule 3. Geographical names without articles
Do not an article with streets, parks, cities, states, counties, most countries, continents, bays, single lakes, single mountains, and single islands.
San Francisco Bay
Compare these geographical names with and without the article
||the Kingdom of Belgium
||the Republic of Cape Verde
||the People’s Republic of China
||the Territory of Guam
||the City of Dallas
||the Island of Manhattan
||the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
||the Russian Federation
||the Republic of Senegal
||the Slovak Republic
||the State of Vermont
Rule 4. No Article with Plural Nouns with a General Sense
Compare the use of articles in the following groups of sentences:
— I like cats but I prefer dogs.
— Would you like to have a party on your birthday?
— Sure! I love parties.
(At the end of a movie)
— Did you like the movie?
— I loved it! I only like scary movies that have good stories.
Rules 5, 6, and 7 are about using articles with names and titles.
Rule 5. No article with people’s names
In some languages, it is correct to use a definite article with people’s names. This is not true of English.
Rule 6. Use “the” with titles
Use “the” to talk about people by their title.
the bishop of New York
the governor of California
the president of the United States
the king of England
Rule 7. No article if you use the person’s name after the title
If you use the person’s name after the title, you apply Rule 5 (no article with people’s names).
Bishop Timothy Dolan
President Joe Biden
King Charles III
Is This Confusing?
Yes, these rules can be quite confusing.
The best way to get better at using articles in English is to practice reading, writing, listening, and speaking as often as possible.
Using the correct article is important, but most of the time people will understand you even if you use an article incorrectly. Just do your best and practice a lot.
Practice 1 covers the basic rules.
Practice 2 uses more advanced sentences.
Congratulations on completing this material!
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