John’s English Blog

I’m John, an English language teacher. Welcome to my blog.

Definite and indefinite articles

Articles, "the" the definite article


In the previous blog post I explained that we use the (the definite article) to mean “you know which one(s)“. In this blog post we’ll look at the use of the in more detail.

speaking in general

We don’t usually use an article when we speak about things in general. For example:

  1. Life is beautiful.
  2. Time is on my side.
  3. I love chocolate. (It’s true)
  4. Punctuality is the politeness of kings.
  5. Students need to practice speaking.
  6. Do you like coffee?

the only one

You might know which one I mean, because there is only one. For example:

  1. The sun is hottest at midday.
  2. Alice likes to lie down and stare at the sky.
  3. Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
  4. The prime minister gave a speech.
  5. The head teacher is strict.
  6. Where is the station?

proper nouns

We don’t usually use the with singular proper nouns.

  1. Martin lives in London.
  2. France won the World Cup.
  3. Sherlock Holmes was a great detective.
  4. Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
  5. My favourite actor is Alec Guinness.
  6. I once met Colin Greenwood, but I didn’t realise he was the Colin Greenwood.
    Here I’m using the to show that it’s someone well-known.
  7. Nelson’s Column is in Trafalgar Square.
  8. Watling Street was an important Roman road.


We often use the to show that someone is well-known.

  1. Do you mean Anne Hathaway, the actress?
  2. I’m talking about Jane Seymour, the actress, not the queen.
  3. Dave gave the keys to Ian. You know, Ian, the tall skinny one.
  4. We’re going to the Taj Mahal, the restaurant.
  5. I met Colin Greenwood, the bass player for Radiohead.
  6. Have you met Lucy, the managing director?


When we use a superlative we use the.

  1. He’s the strongest, he’s the quickest, he’s the best.
  2. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
  3. Usain Bolt is the fastest.
  4. Everest is the highest mountain.
  5. I am the greatest.
  6. You are the cleverest student in the class.

ordinals numbers and sequences

We use the with ordinal numbers and sequences.

  1. Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
  2. The second course was delicious.
  3. That’s the last time I’m waiting for you.
  4. This bus is full. Let’s wait for the next one.
  5. I missed Kevin, because he was on the previous bus.
  6. It’s the only game in town.

groups of people

We use the with groups of people including families.

  1. The rich and famous attended the gala.
  2. Nurses care for the sick.
  3. The VIPs jumped the queue.
  4. The train drivers are on strike again.
  5. We’re having dinner with the Windsors tomorrow.
  6. The Italians drink 14 billion espressos a year.
    With the we are talking about Italians as a group.
  7. Italians drink 3.7 Kg of coffee a year.
    Without the we are talking about Italians as individuals.


Countries with plural names and names containing the type of country use the.

  1. The Netherlands is a small country.
  2. The Maldives consists of 26 small islands.
  3. The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world.
  4. The UK (The United Kingdom) is a union of four countries.
  5. Hollywood is in The USA (The United States of America).
  6. The Isle of Man TT is very dangerous.
  7. The Republic of Austria joined the European Union in 1995.
  8. Tweed comes from the Isle of Harris.

Short names for countries usually don’t take the.

  1. Russia
  2. England
  3. Austria


Back to the article

  1. I’m not keen on tofu, but I love cake.
  2. London is the capital of the United Kingdom.
  3. The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world.
  4. Wales is beautiful.
  5. The sky is the limit.
  6. Have you ever watched a ship disappear over the horizon?
  7. Elvis is the King.
  8. The Prime Minister has a weekly meeting with the Queen.
  9. Bealach na Bà is a steep road in Scotland.
  10. No, not the journalist, I mean Geraint Thomas, the cyclist.
  11. The shortest route between two points is a straight line.
  12. Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest church spire in the UK.
  13. The Isle of Lewis is really only half of an island.
  14. The British can’t agree how to pronounce “scone”.
  15. Germans eat 57Kg of potatoes per year.
  16. work is the curse of the drinking classes.” Oscar Wilde.
  17. The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.” Fight Club.
  18. February is the second month of the year.
  19. Is the last day of the week Saturday or Sunday?
  20. “you’re the only girl in the world” Rhianna.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. If you have any comments, questions or corrections please write them below.

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