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Definite and Indefinite Articles in English | Page 2/2

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.”

Basic Rules

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 Phillipines

the Amazon (River)

the Andes

the Arabian Desert

See more examples below.

the Czech Replublic

the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC or Congo-Kinshasa)

the Ivory Coast

the Gambia

the Maldives (or the Maldive Islands)

the Netherlands

the People’s Republic of China

the Philippines

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 Azores

the Aleutian Islands

the Bahamas

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 Amazon

the Atlantic

the Caspian Sea

the English Channel

the Euphrates

the Ganges

the Gulf of Mexico

the Mediterranean (Sea)

the Mississippi (River)

the Nile (River)

the Pacific

the Tigris

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 Alps

the Andes

the Appalachians

the Carpathian Montains

the Cascades (or the Cacade Range)

the Caucasus

the Himalayas

the Pyrenees

the Rockies (or the Rocky Montains)

the Scottish Highlands

the Sulaiman Montains

the Urals

the American South

the Equator

the north of Canada

the Middle East

the North

the Pacific Ring of Fire (or the Rim of Fire)

the South Pole

the South

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.

America

Ascension Island

Australia

Barbados

Central America

Chile

China

Cambridge

Central Park

North America

Northern Ireland

Pennsylvania Avenue

San Francisco Bay

Santorini (Greece)

South America

Wall Street

Compare these geographical names with and without the article

Name Only Official Name
Belgium the Kingdom of Belgium
Cape Verde the Republic of Cape Verde
China the People’s Republic of China
Guam the Territory of Guam
Dallas the City of Dallas
Manhattan the Island of Manhattan
Puerto Rico the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
Russia the Russian Federation
Senegal the Republic of Senegal
Slovakia the Slovak Republic
Vermont 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

Governor Smith

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

Practice 1 covers the basic rules.

Practice 2 uses more advanced sentences.

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“What should I learn next?”

Check out Pronunciation of the Articles so you learn how to say them correctly.

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