Grammar – When NOT to Use ‘the’! (definite article)

by Melanie on May 13, 2010

(Photo by Milos Milosevic)

For many English learners, articles are one of the most difficult things to remember! Even more confusing, it is not ALWAYS necessary to use an article in English.

Sometimes it’s easier to remember when NOT to use something, instead of trying to memorize when to use something.

Here are some situations in which you don’t need to use the.

 

 

1. When you talk about things in general:
*The main rule to remember is: you don’t need an article when you talk about things in general.  ‘The‘ does NOT = all.

Use plural count nouns:

Cats make great pets!
*You’re not talking about one specific cat or one specific pet; you’re just talking about all cats in general.

Women love it when men send them flowers!

Houses are expensive in that neighbourhood.

People think all Canadians speak English and French, but they’re wrong!

Companies in Canada pay very high taxes.

I love reading books.

 

Use non-count nouns:

I love listening to music.
*Here you are just saying that you enjoy music in general – not any specific kind of music or song.

She’s afraid of heights, so we couldn’t go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

I love chocolate!

Have you eaten lunch yet?

She’s a vegetarian. She doesn’t eat meat.

 

2. Names – holidays, geography, companies, languages.
[*these are all proper nouns]

a) Holidays

I got a beautiful new dress for Christmas.

I got my mom a movie catalogue for Mother’s Day.

On St. Patrick’s Day everybody wears green.

What are you doing on Valentine’s Day?

 

b) Geography
*Articles are not used before countries, states, cities, towns, continents, single lakes, single mountains.

I live in Canada.

I’m going to Europe next month on vacation.

Lake Ontario and Lake Huron are 2 of the Great Lakes.

Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan.

Mt. Rosa is part of the Alps mountain range.
*Mt. Rosa is one mountain; The Alps describe a group of mountains.

*Of course, there is an exception to every rule in English:
the United States
the Czech Republic
the Philippines

 

c) Companies

Bill Gates founded Microsoft.

Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the U.S.

McDonald’s has restaurants in 119 countries.

I use Twitter and Facebook every day.

 

d) Universities

Her son graduated from Harvard.

She goes to Oxford.

He applied to Cambridge, Yale, and Stanford.

*However, if the name of the university begins with ‘University,’ then you must use ‘the’:

He has a master’s degree from the University of Toronto.

 

e) Languages

I am studying Russian.

I speak French.

In Brazil people speak Portuguese.

I teach people how to speak English.

 

3. Places, locations, streets
*Streets, some locations and places do not need an article:

I left my book at home.

I have to go to work [the place where I work / the location] early tomorrow.

He was found guilty of murder and sent to jail for life.

My office is located on Main street.[a street name is also a proper noun]

I usually go to church on Sundays.

Good night everyone! I’m going to bed.

Did you go to school today?

When I was in high school, everyone had to study French.

She’s studying business at university.

NOTE: you don’t need an article for subjects you study at school: math, geography, business, history, science

*Places that you DO need to use an article:
the bank, the movies, the hospital, the post office, the airport, the train station, the bus stop, the doctor, the dentist.

 

4. Sports
*Sports and other physical activities do not need an article:

I love to go skiing in the winter.

I play football every day after school.

He loves watching hockey on TV.

She tries to do yoga at least 3 times a week.

My daughter really enjoys dancing.

 

5. Noun + number

He’s staying at the Hilton hotel in room 221.
[NOT the room 221]

The train to Paris leaves from platform 2.

My English class is in room 6 on the first floor.
*’First’ is an adjective in this sentence, used to describe ‘the floor.

Picture number 6 matches with ‘window’
[This is something learners say when doing a matching activity in an English class]

 

6. Acronyms
An acronym is an abbreviation (a short form) of a name. It uses the first letter of each word to form a new word.

a) If the acronym is pronounced as a word (not individual letters), don’t use ‘the.’

NATO ambassadors met to discuss the situation.
(NATO is the acronym used for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. UNESCO is pronounced as one word, /’neɪtoʊ/.)

UNESCO was formed in 1946.
(UNESCO is the acronym used for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO is pronounced as one word, /ju’nɛskoʊ/.)

 

b) The is not used before university acronyms:

John Smith got his MBA at UCLA.

She has a Ph.D. from MIT.

 

EXCEPTION:
You need to use ‘the’ before acronyms of organizations & countries when the letters are pronounced individually, not as a word.

The UN was created after the Second World War.
(UN is used to represent the United Nations. UN is pronounced you-N /ju’ɛn/. It is not pronounced ‘un’ /ʌn/, like in the word under.)

Other acronyms that need ‘the’:

the EU
the US
the CIA
the FBI

 

 


Previous post:

Next post: