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Getting Smarter through Language

(Basic) Definite and Indefinite Articles in English

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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.

Basic Rules

On the previous page, you learned that the definite article (“the”) is used before a noun that is specific. This is the basic rule, but there are many more.

Rule 1. Specific or not specific

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.

When you say “the car” or “the car John drives,” you are not talking about just any car; it is a specific car.

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 that John drives.”

Rule 2. Countries and geographical names with “the”

Sometimes you use “the” with some countries, large regions, deserts, oceans, mountain ranges, groups of islands (but not single islands), and so on.

the Philippines

the Amazon (River)

the Andes

the Arabian Desert

See more examples below.


the Czech Republic

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)

Group of Islands

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


1. Do not use “the” for single islands, for example, Antigua, Grenada, Maui, Saint Lucia.

2. An “archipelago” /ˌɑɚkəˈpɛləˌgoʊ/ is a group of islands. Another name for “island” is “isle,” which you often see used with proper nouns.

Bodies of Water

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)

Mountain Ranges

the Alps

the Andes

the Appalachians

the Carpathian Mountains

the Cascades (or the Cascade Range)

the Caucasus

the Himalayas

the Pyrenees

the Rockies (or the Rocky Mountains)

the Scottish Highlands

the Sulaiman Mountains

the Urals

Other Geographical Points and Features

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

Up Next: Geographical Names

Continue the lesson to learn geographical names without articles.