Definite Article: the
The definite article is used before singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific or particular. The signals that the noun is definite, that it refers to a particular member of a group. For example:
“The dog that bit me ran away.” Here, we’re talking about a specific dog, the dog that bit me.
“I was happy to see the policeman who saved my cat!” Here, we’re talking about a particularpoliceman. Even if we don’t know the policeman’s name, it’s still a particular policeman because it is the one who saved the cat.
“I saw the elephant at the zoo.” Here, we’re talking about a specific noun. Probably there is only one elephant at the zoo.
Count and Noncount Nouns
The can be used with noncount nouns, or the article can be omitted entirely.
- “I love to sail over the water” (some specific body of water) or “I love to sail over water” (any water).
- “He spilled the milk all over the floor” (some specific milk, perhaps the milk you bought earlier that day) or “He spilled milk all over the floor” (any milk).
“A/an” can be used only with count nouns.
- “I need a bottle of water.”
- “I need a new glass of milk.”
Most of the time, you can’t say, “She wants a water,” unless you’re implying, say, a bottle of water.
Geographical use of the
There are some specific rules for using the with geographical nouns.
Do not use the before:
- names of most countries/territories: Italy, Mexico, Bolivia; however, the Netherlands, theDominican Republic, the Philippines, the United States
- names of cities, towns, or states: Seoul, Manitoba, Miami
- names of streets: Washington Blvd., Main St.
- names of lakes and bays: Lake Titicaca, Lake Erie except with a group of lakes like the Great Lakes
- names of mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Fuji except with ranges of mountains likethe Andes or the Rockies or unusual names like the Matterhorn
- names of continents (Asia, Europe)
- names of islands (Easter Island, Maui, Key West) except with island chains like theAleutians, the Hebrides, or the Canary Islands
Do use the before:
- names of rivers, oceans and seas: the Nile, the Pacific
- points on the globe: the Equator, the North Pole
- geographical areas: the Middle East, the West
- deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas: the Sahara, the Persian Gulf, the Black Forest,the Iberian Peninsula
Omission of Articles
Some common types of nouns that don’t take an article are:
- Names of languages and nationalities: Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian (unless you are referring to the population of the nation: “The Spanish are known for their warm hospitality.”)
- Names of sports: volleyball, hockey, baseball
- Names of academic subjects: mathematics, biology, history, computer science