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

 

 


{ 146 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mas May 13, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Hello.
This blog post is really useful for me.
It is difficult for me to use "a" and "the" correctly.
I thinh it is not only me,but also lots of Japanese English learners use "a" and "the" wrong.
I guess I use "a" for "the",and put "the" even if it's not necessary.
After reading this post,I hope my mistake is getting less.

oxwinter

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2 Code Switcher May 14, 2010 at 11:17 am

Hello Melanie,

Thank you very much for having posted an article about the uses of the article 'the'since it can be 'tricky' sometimes.
I think is it very useful and I really appreciate the examples you provide with the grammar explanation since they are really important for us, the foreign students who are learning the language ;)
Thanks a lot once again and I hope you keep on contributing to the teaching of the English language

Code Switcher

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3 Melanie May 14, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Hell Oxwinter & Code Switcher! Thanks so much for your comments. English is such a confusing language : ( I think the biggest problem with articles is that they don't translate well between languages. Some languages don't use articles at all, while some languages use 'a' or 'the' in front of ALL nouns!
I'm happy that you found this post useful! Please let me know if there's anything you would like to see in the future!

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4 Monika March 21, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Hi Melanie,
I try to learn English on my own. I’m in this country a few years but never got change to go to school. Would you please give me some tips how to improve and learn this language.
Thank you
monika

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5 crazybear-3 November 2, 2011 at 8:59 pm

super helpful. i volunteer as a conversation partner for esl students but i don't know all the grammatical things to English since I just grew up speaking the language so it is difficult to explain things like when to use 'the' and 'a'. I think this is a great explanation also because it explains when NOT to use it!

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6 Melanie November 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Hi, Crazybear-3!

The list of when to use 'the' & 'a' is so long, it's basically useless trying to memorize all "the rules." I agree with you – I grew up speaking the language, and sometimes the only answer I have is "we use 'the' … just because!"

All the best,
Melanie
= )

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7 hancs77 July 7, 2012 at 2:32 am

That the constitutionality of the A.C.A. was even called into question is testimony to how far the center of gravity in the American judiciary has shifted to the right.

Can anyone tell me why “the” is not used in front of testimony.

thank,
Scott

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Melanie 8 Melanie July 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Hi, Scott,

‘Testimony’ is a countable AND uncountable noun. In your sentence, it is used as an uncountable noun to mean “proof or evidence that something exists or is true.” In this context falls into category #1. It is not used to talk about evidence given by a person. ‘The’ is used to talk about something specific, but in your sentence ‘testimony’ doesn’t refer to something specific that someone said, or someone’s specific testimony. It isn’t related to the actual Supreme Court hearing.

I hope that helps!
= )

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9 Gabriela July 15, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Can you please tell me how are articles used when I talk about feelings? like fear, anger and so on? Im often confused about this

And also, how it with words that end with ing? Cleaning etc.

She did the cleaning? or no article is better? …

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Melanie 10 Melanie July 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Hi, Gabriela!

#1. the + feelings (in the noun form)
Hmmm …. can you give me an example sentence that confuses you?

Feelings like ‘anger’ and ‘fear’ are nouns, so they would fit into category #1: if you are using nouns in the general sense, you don’t need ‘the.’
“I have a lot of anger.”

If you are talking about a feeling about something specific, then you can use ‘the,’ although it sounds very formal:
“The fear I felt was overwhelming.”
“The anger I feel towards my mother for leaving me will not go away.”

As you can see those sentences are rather complex.

There is also a fixed expression with ‘fear’:
to put the fear of God (into someone) = to really frighten someone

#2. Gerunds are a set of words that end with -ing. Gerunds are verbs that act as nouns, so again, they fit into category 1. If you are talking about something in the general sense, don’t use ‘the’:
“Cleaning the house is boring.”
“I hate cleaning my room.”

If you are talking about something specific, like something specific you cleaned, then use ‘the’:
“I did the cleaning yesterday.”

However, ‘cleaning’ is an interesting noun. ‘The cleaning’ could also mean ‘dry cleaning,’ which is a specific way of cleaning clothes. Usually you pay a company to dry clean your expensive clothes:
“I’ll pick up the cleaning on my way home.”

I hope that makes sense. If I think of anything else, I’ll add another comment.
= )

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11 Gabriela July 16, 2012 at 2:47 am

Thank you very much. :) We dont use articles in my language at all, when you explain it, it sounds simple, but later, when Im supposed to use it in a conversation, I hesitate, mostly whether to use The or rather nothing.

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Melanie 12 Melanie July 16, 2012 at 8:37 pm

That’s OK! You are not alone. Many English learners struggle with articles.

The more you practice speaking, reading, & listening, the easier it will get.

= )

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13 Dhruv September 11, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Hello.

A few days back I commented on a pic of mine on fb in reply to a friend as-
“It’s from the year 2010.”
Is is correct to use ‘the’ before ‘year 2010′?
If not (“no ‘the’ before noun number”), why do they use it in following expressions-
“It happened in the year 2002.”
“Person of the year 2011.”

I am confused. Please help.

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Melanie 14 Melanie September 13, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Hi, Dhruv!

This is a good question! I didn’t think about this specific example when I wrote this post. It’s correct to say “It’s from the year 2010.”

I have no idea why that is correct but the examples above are not correct. There is always an exception to every rule in English!

English is a confusing language. I have a lot of sympathy for everyone learning English!

= )

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15 Dhruv September 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Thank you for your help. That thing had started to get on my nerves. :P

About the other two examples, the latter is a magazine headline. i.e. ‘Time’s Person of the Year 2011′. I think ’2011′ is supposed to be in invisible brackets.

Yes, English is pretty confusing. But guess what, your today’s doubts are tomorrow’s realisations. Doubts are good! :)

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Melanie 16 Melanie September 18, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I’ve been thinking more about this. Often ‘in the year’ or ‘the year’ is a more poetic way of saying something.

For example,
“It happened in the year 2002.” is correct, but it is much simpler to say “It happened in 2002.”

In the case of Time magazine, ‘Person of the Year’ is a title given out by Time. When Time talks about the ‘Person of the Year 2011,’ it’s a shortened way of saying ‘The Protestor is the Person of the Year for 2011.” Magazines & newspapers often shorten the headlines.

Does that make sense?
= )

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17 Dhruv September 20, 2012 at 8:53 am

Yes, I think it is totally clear now. This is an obvious exception to that rule (no ‘the’ before noun number).

Thank you for your explaination about the magazine headline part.

I might return to this site to bug you with more doubts in the future.

Thanks. :)

18 Trang October 31, 2012 at 10:01 am

English seems so difficult for me. There’re too many things to learn everyday. I just have found this web and I realize that it’s very helpful for me to improve my E. Thank teacher Malanie very much!
( If I have any mistakes, please show me it, my writing’s very bad)

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Melanie 19 Melanie November 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Don’t get discouraged, Trang! You don’t have to learn everything about English in one day! How long did it take you to learn your language? Make sure you do something in English every day, and you will be fine.

= )

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20 Trang November 3, 2012 at 1:25 am

thanks teacher!

21 Bimla September 25, 2012 at 11:51 am

Teacher Melanie,
Really, all these examples given here are very important to me! We often face difficulties in “article usage”, as non-native speakers.
Good Luck!
Bimal

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22 Ema November 9, 2012 at 6:49 am

Dear teacher,
Which is correct?
He took over representation of the case.
or
He took over the representation of the case.

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Melanie 23 Melanie November 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Hi, Ema!

Are you talking about a lawyer taking over a case from another lawyer?

Both of the sentences are accepted & used in English, but the 1st sentence is more common:
“He took over representation of the case.”

= )

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24 Ema November 15, 2012 at 10:17 am

Dear Melannie.
You are right. That’s exactly what I meant.
Thank you for your assistance.

Ema

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25 SUDIPTA November 28, 2012 at 1:20 am

U R REALLY GREAT!!!! I want to improve my reading power in poems.please help.

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26 ema December 3, 2012 at 6:14 am

Dear Mealnie,

We need a translator with an excellent knowledge of Italian.
I want my children to have a good education.

Both knowledge and education are uncountable nouns. Uncountable nouns cannot be used with the indefinite article. However, in the above examples A is used in front of both nouns. Why?
Is it possible to leave the article out or to put THE in front of knowledge and education.
I look forward to your response.

Ema

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Melanie 27 Melanie December 5, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Hi, Ema!

This is a great question!

1. “We need a translator with an excellent knowledge of Italian.”
The phrase to focus on here is “a knowledge of ______ (noun).” This is a common, fixed expression. [I googled "the knowledge of" but that seems to be mainly a religious expression.]

However, there is another expression that uses ‘the knowledge,’ “secure/safe in the knowledge that…” which means “feeling safe or secure because you know something specified” (Merriam-Webster’s Learners Dictionary)

2. “I want my children to have a good education.”
‘Education’ is an uncountable AND countable noun, depending on the context. In the context of your sentence, an ‘education’ refers to the specific experience of ‘my children.’ The Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary defines this as, “the knowledge, skill, and understanding that you get from attending a school, college, or university.”

I hope that helps!
= )

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28 ema December 6, 2012 at 6:55 am

Hi, Melani,

Thank you very much!

Ema

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29 aishwarya December 6, 2012 at 6:37 am

please tell me, can i use ‘the’ article with a name like “the michael jackson” ?????
”the obama” ?????
is it correct way or not.,,to specify one’s uniqueness…????

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Melanie 30 Melanie December 8, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Hi, Aishwarya!

‘The’ is not usually used with someone’s name.
“Barack Obama is the president of the United States.”
“Michael Jackson died in 2009.”

It is sometimes used in advanced sentence structures. Here are some examples:
1. If two people have the same name, ‘the’ can be used:
“I am looking for the John Smith who lives in Canada.”

2. ‘The’ can also be used if someone has changed:
“The Michael Jackson I knew was kind and loving.”

3. ‘The’ can also be used if someone is famous:
“Are you Barack Obama? THE Barack Obama?”
(If more than one person has the name ‘Barack Obama,’ you want to make sure you are talking to the Barack Obama who is president/famous.)

However, 99% of the time, ‘the’ is not used in front of a name.

= )

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31 Neden January 25, 2013 at 4:23 am

Hey! Thank you for the enlightening explanations!
If have but one question. What about the sentence: “He lives on the street.”
Since this doesn’t really describe any specific street I came to wonder whether it is a collocation?
An explanation would be very much appreciated! :)

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Melanie 32 Melanie January 29, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Hi, Neden!

You are correct! The phrase “to live on/in the street” means “to be homeless.” He doesn’t live on a specific street, he lives wherever he can find a place to sleep.

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33 Greg February 17, 2013 at 11:46 pm

Hi Melanie,

A friend of mine who is always looking to brush up on his English skills showed this site to me. I am a native speaker and I don’t envy anyone that has to learn English as a second language, so many strange and contradictory rules!

I wanted to point out in Section 1. 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.” This statement, to me, makes it look like “I love listening to the jazz” or “I love listening to the classical” would be correct. It may technically be correct (I’m not sure as I’m not an academic) but is rarely used in that way.

I love what you are trying to do here, keep up the good work! :D

Greg

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34 Mohamed February 24, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Hi Melanie
Thank you so much for this lesson, it’s really really useful.
I actually face this problem, though I’ve been learning English for years, but I still can’t know when I should use “the” and when I shouldn’t till I saw this lesson.
However, I would like to make sure if it helps or no.
Is this quotation correct please? “A wise man has said: the health of body is in eating a little of food, the health of heart is in making a few sins and guiltiness, and the health of self is in talking a little.”
Please help me out and thanks in advance again.

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Melanie 35 Melanie March 26, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Hi, Mohamed,

I have never seen this quote before. I tried googling the quote, but I cannot find the origin of this quote. Do you know where it’s from?

= )

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36 Saman March 8, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Thx Melanie…

It was really helpful.

BTW. I don’t believe that “the united states” is an exception because like you said:
*Articles are not used before countries, states, cities, towns, continents, single lakes, single mountains.

So “the United States” means the states that are united. like New York, Ohio, Texas. it’s just like “the Alps” (a group of mountains). so the article “the” for “United States” is a must not an exception. even the Czech Republic cannot be an exception either because “republic” means “the elected representatives of the people” (= the elected representatives of Czech) and because it’s not a singular word then it goes with the article “the”.

correct me if I’m wrong…

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Melanie 37 Melanie March 26, 2013 at 6:31 pm

That’s an interesting way of thinking about it, Saman! Your reasoning is correct. It’s much easier to memorize if you think of it that way. Well done!

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38 Saman May 24, 2013 at 12:10 am

Thank you. but I guess I made a mistake too.
“the elected representatives of people” not “the people” because I meant people in general not any specific people. Am I correct?

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Melanie 39 Melanie May 24, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Actually, “the elected representatives of the people” is fine! You’re talking about “the Czech people” which is fine. This is in the context of talking about politics & countries. When you are talking about a group of people as one (members of a nation, etc.), then you can use ‘the.’

Merriam-Webster’s Learners’ Dictionary defines this as “the ordinary people in a country who do not have special power or privileges”
(http://www.learnersdictionary.com/search/people #4)

= )

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40 Irena March 10, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Dear Melanie!
I would like to ask which sentence is correct when you need to introduce yourself:
(My name’s) or (My name is)
I do understand where to use paragraph but this is the only doubt I have now.
Thanks for your time

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41 Greg March 15, 2013 at 2:22 am

Irena,

They are both correct, as they are both the same thing. “Name’s” is a contraction of “name is”. English is screwy.

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42 Ema April 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Dear Melanie I am quite confuse here rather I should or should not use the article “the” in the following context. We are making a art-logo for a t-shirt that a few young people will use in Rio de Janeiro during World Youth Day this year. These young people are going to the event with a group called Shalom. So the logo says:
“with Shalom in the World Youth Day”. Is it correct to say “the” World Youth Day? In my opinion it is a specific World Youth Day, the one that takes place every 4 years at some city in the world and is promoted by the Catholic Church. Or should it be “With Shalom at the WYD”?

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Melanie 43 Melanie April 9, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Hi, Ema!

You answered your own question:
“…a t-shirt that a few young people will use in Rio de Janeiro during World Youth Day this year.”
“In my opinion it is a specific World Youth Day,…”
Did you notice that you didn’t use ‘the’?

There’s only one World Youth Day a year (or every 4 years), just like there is only one Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter, Mother’s Day, etc. so you don’t need to use ‘the.’

You would use ‘the’ to talk about a specific World Youth Day in the past. For example, “Pope John Paul attended the 2002 World Youth Day” in order to separate it from other World Youth Days.

As for the preposition, you can choose either ‘at’ or ‘on,’ since it’s both an event and a day. I googled both “at World Youth Day” [1.3 million hits] and “on World Youth Day” [1.5 million hits]. Since the event/festival will be in Rio, you should use ‘at.’

It should say:
“With Shalom at World Youth Day”

Question: Is there something before “with” or is that the start of your sentence?

All the best,
Melanie

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44 Ema April 9, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Thank you very much Melanie. Actually there is nothing before “with” since is a t-shirt logo its meant to give the idea that the person wearing it is the subject who is “with Shalom at WYD”. Thank you once again!

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45 sharon hutchinson April 21, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Hi Melanie,
I happened upon your site while trying to find a rule that pertains to a usage of ‘the’ which has been bothering me. Is it correct to say ‘he died in the Johnson Hospital’, when the hospital’s name is Johnson Hospital? To my ear, using ‘the’ in that sentence turns part of the proper name – Johnson – into an adjective. A dear friend is a Funeral Director and Ive noticed that he has picked this usage up from one of his new employees; I wanted to check before I point it out to him.
Thank you for taking the time to, not just respond, but to construct a page for such a specific grammar issue.
Sharon

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Melanie 46 Melanie April 22, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Hi, Sharon,

Is ‘the’ part of the name of the hospital? If ‘the’ is part of the actual name, then it’s OK to say “He died in The Johnson Hospital.” (For example, in Canada we have an insurance company called ‘The Co-operators Group.’ In that case it’s OK to say “I work for the The Co-operators Group.”

If ‘the’ is not part of the name of the hospital, then it shouldn’t be used. This would fall in the category of (2c) Names – Companies. We wouldn’t say “I work at the Microsoft.”

I hope that helps!
= )

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47 Ema May 16, 2013 at 9:41 am

Hi, Melanie!
I have a question about prepositions.
Open your books at page 5.
There is a photograph of the prince on page 5.
Is there a difference between at page and on page. Is it correct if I to say open your books on page 5?
I look forward to your response.

Ema

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Melanie 48 Melanie May 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Hi, Ema,

This is an interesting question.

A better sentence is “Open your books to page 5.” This is a fixed expression. I can’t think of another use of “open … to” other than talking about opening a book to a specific page.

For every other use of ‘page,’ use ‘on.’
“There is a photograph of the prince on page 5.”

= )

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49 Ema May 23, 2013 at 5:54 am

Dear Melanie,
Thank you for your response.
I have just read the below sentence “Elimination of sexism is moral progress”
and I have a question about the noun elimination.
Elimination can be both countable and uncountable. If countable, we can use both A and THE in front of it, if uncountable we can use THE or no article at all. These nouns are rather confusing for foreign learners. It’s difficult to figure out when they are C or UNC and can lead to the wrong choice of the article.
Does the elimination of sexism is moral progress mean specific elimination and therefore, THE is correct? Would it be ok if we put A in front of elimination?

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Melanie 50 Melanie May 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Hi, Ema!

Instead of worrying about when to use ‘elimination’ as a countable or uncountable noun, it’s much easier to memorize the phrase “the elimination of.”

You can see in these dictionaries that the first example sentences use ‘the elimination of’:
http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/elimination
http://www.learnersdictionary.com/search/elimination

This is a collocation.
(http://www.englishteachermelanie.com/study-tip-what-are-collocations/)

How often will you actually use ‘elimination’ in conversation? Is this a word you need for your work or your studies? It’s not core vocabulary. It’s not one of the most common words used in English, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this word.

If you are unsure of how to use a word in a sentence, use the two dictionaries I linked to above. By reading the example sentences and paying attention to the collocations, you can usually figure out how to use the word in a sentence.

Good luck with your English studies!
= )

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51 Barbara May 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Is the sentence: “Elimination of sexism is moral progress.” correct? Or should it be: “The elimination of sexism is a moral progress.”?

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Melanie 52 Melanie May 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Hi, Barbara,

This is an interesting sentence. “The elimination of sexism is …” is correct.

‘Progress’ is an uncountable noun, and ‘moral’ describes the kind of progress, so don’t use ‘a’.

“The elimination of sexism is moral progress.”

= )

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53 Pedro May 21, 2013 at 11:14 am

Hi Melanie,

Great post!

I’ve got two that have been bugging me for quite a while:
1) (The) income inequality has increased since…
2) I work for (the) administration and support services…

Ad 1) Somehow my feeling tells me that it’s “the income inequality”, as “income inequality” sounds a bit off, but inequality is an uncountable noun, right?
Ad 2) I’d say “the administration and support services”, but quite a few colleagues have persistently written it without “the”, so I’m confused.

Care to shed some light? Thanks!

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Melanie 54 Melanie May 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Hi, Pedro!

1. (The) income inequality has increased since…
You are correct that ‘inequality’ is an uncountable noun, so the correct sentence is ‘Income inequality has increased since …”
Sometimes you may see ‘the income inequality’ used IF ‘income inequality’ is being used as an adjective. Here are some things I found when I googled ‘the income inequality’:
…the income inequality situation…
…the income inequality report card.
…the income inequality indicator.

2) I work for (the) administration and support services…
Is ‘administration and support services’ the name of your department? For example, is it part of a larger company, like human resources, marketing, operations, etc.? Then you don’t need ‘the’. You can just say “I work in administration & support services.”

= )

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55 Shahzad May 27, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Hello Melanie

I am writing a paragraph in which i need your help. Please let me know if it is correct and has no grammatical mistakes. It goes like this….

Hi Mr Smith

I am writing this mail to inform you that I am interested in products which you are selling. I wish to know the prices of those products and their serial numbers in alphabetical order. Regardless of what the volume is. Discount will really be appreciated and thereafter we will promise to support you in near future.

I hope to see your reply soon.

Kind regards

Shahzad

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56 mustapha June 9, 2013 at 7:43 am

is this correct to say he is a police man or he is police man
yours

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Melanie 57 Melanie June 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Hi, Mustapha!

“He is a policeman.”

= )

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58 mustapha June 9, 2013 at 8:36 am

can i say Mr`s hill`s daughter is a clever oronly she is clever
or can i say she is the clever.

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Melanie 59 Melanie June 13, 2013 at 1:32 pm

“Mr Hill’s daughter is clever.”

OR

“She is clever.”

Clever = adjective
A policeman = noun

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60 naveed June 11, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Dear Melanie,
Thanks a lot really learned a lot with single visit this page by chance.
GOD bless you

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61 Napoleon June 22, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Hi Melanie,
Thank you very much for your elucidation on when to use and when not to use the definite article, the; however, I just can’t find the explanation for the question that Ive been asking myself, and I’ll explain it to you in the next paragraph.
My school’s name is DMMMSU, an abbreviation of Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University. I can’t hold my inner reaction whenever I hear someone saying or writing something like “The DMMMSU”. I couldnt find the specific rule in my books, but I’m quite certain that it can only sound correct if the name of the school is not abbreviated as in “The Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University has three campuses.” Another example is “The University of the Philippines is one of the best universities in the Philippines.” It sounds ridiculous to start it by saying, “The U.P.” What about the use of “the” before Philippines at the end of the sentence, is it correct?
The foregoing examples make me surmise that it is inappropriate to use the definite article “the” in introducing a personal noun’s abbreviation as in “The DMMMSU”. But why is it that it sounds better and correct to start an example of a sentence such “The FBI arrested the culprit in Boston bombing” than by simply saying, “FBI arrested the culprit in Boston bombing.” In the last two examples, I even have a second thought of saying “in the Boston bombing” because without the definite article, it appears that the culprit was only arrested somewhere in Boston, and not the way that I would want to refer to the idiot as the one who carried out the bombing in Boston.
I will highly appreciate your reply to this.
–Napoleon

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Melanie 62 Melanie July 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Hi, Napoleon!

These are all good questions! I’ll try to answer them one by one:

1. The Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University
Because of the word ‘Memorial’ in the name, I suspected that the university was named in honor of a person, and according to Wikipedia it is named after Mariano Marcos. Often when something is named in memory of a person, ‘the’ is often used, but only if ‘memorial’ is also used. This also happens with the names of scholarships:
The Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship
The Lorraine Allison Memorial Scholarship

What does the university call itself ? I can’t find an official website. If the official name doesn’t include ‘the,’ then you don’t need to use it. However, it’s OK to use ‘the’ when talking about the school.

If the name didn’t have ‘memorial’ in it, you wouldn’t need to use ‘the,’ like ‘Mariano Marcos State University’ in Ilocos Norte. For example, there are universities in Canada named after people, but ‘the’ is not used before these names:
Wilfrid Laurier University
Simon Fraser University
Grant MacEwan University

2. The University of the Philippines
When the name of the university starts with ‘University,’ always use ‘the.’

3. The Philippines
This is the official name of your country in English (Republic of the Philippines), so you need to use ‘the’. I have added it to the list in 2b!

4. The + abbreviations (the DMMMSU, the FBI, & the U.P.)
I had to do some research into this! If you say the individual letters in the abbreviation (ef-bee-eye, you-pee), then you can use ‘the’ before the abbreviation. HOWEVER, if the initials are said as a word, (for example, according to Wikipedia DMMMSU is pronounced ‘DEEM-su,’ instead of ‘dee-em-em-em-es-you’), then don’t use ‘the.’ So, you can say both ‘U.P.’ and ‘the U.P.’ For example, in England the TV channel is called ‘the BBC,’ but one of the shows on the channel is ‘BBC News.’

5. “The FBI arrested the culprit in Boston bombing”
Was this the headline of a news article? Sometimes ‘the’ is left out of headlines. For example, the headline may have also said “FBI arrested culprit in Boston bombing.” However, in a normal sentence, ‘the’ is used: “The FBI arrested the culprit in the Boston bombing.”

= )

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63 Gabriela June 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Hi… I would like to know why there is THE in the song All the single ladies… I mean, isnt it general? what single ladies in particular is the song reffering to?

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Melanie 64 Melanie July 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Hi, Gabriela!

When Beyonce sings “All the Single Ladies,” she is talking to a specific group of ladies: single ladies. It’s like she’s looking at a group of women, but she only wants to talk to the ladies who are single (not married, without a boyfriend), and she’s asking, “Where are all the single ladies?” The next line is “Now put your hands up.” She is saying “Put your hand up if you are a single lady” so she can see where all the single ladies are.

= )

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65 Chalapathi July 12, 2013 at 8:10 am

Hi Melanie,
Its my immense pleasure to come across this website unfortunately and going through the article. I do have some doubts which I want you to clear.
1.Let’s go to beach or it should be Let’s go to the beach which is correct and why?
2.What would you like for the breakfast or it should be What would you like for breakfast?which is correct and why?
3.Nile is the longest river in the world or it should be The Nile is the longest river in the world?which is correct and why?
4.Sahara is the world’s biggest desert or it should be The Sahara is the world’s biggest desert?which is correct and why?
Please answer them with reasoning Thank you.

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Melanie 66 Melanie July 15, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Hi, Chalapathi

1. “Let’s go to the beach!” = a fixed expression

2. “What would you like for breakfast?” – ‘The’ is not used for meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner)

3. “The Nile is the longest river in the world.” ‘The’ is used with the names of oceans, seas, rivers, gulfs, & canals (bodies of water)

4. “The Sahara is the world’s biggest desert.” ‘The’ is used with the names of deserts.

= )

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67 Chalapathi July 16, 2013 at 1:57 am

Hi Melanie,
I am very thankful to you for clearing the doubts, and I have few other doubts

Tornoto is located on the Lake Ontario or Tornoto is located on Lake Ontario. Which is correct and why?
Some call a Policeman! Here article ‘a’ is used since policeman is singular? Is it correct or is there any other reason?
Someone call the police!
Here I couldn’t point out proper reason why article ‘The’ is used.Please help by
figuring the reason.

Prepositions
She arrived at JFK airport on Monday.
I arrived at the Hilton in Newyork at 7:00
Is it correct if I replace ‘at’ with ‘to’ in the above sentences? Thank you.

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Melanie 68 Melanie July 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm

1. “Toronto is located on the Lake Ontario” OR “Toronto is located on Lake Ontario.” Which is correct and why?
= This was answered in my reply above. Read #3 again.

2. “Someone call a policeman!” Here article ‘a’ is used since policeman is singular? Is it correct or is there any other reason?
= correct

“Someone call the police!”
Here I couldn’t point out proper reason why article ‘The’ is used.Please help by figuring the reason.
= ‘Police’ is a plural noun. It refers to a group of people. ‘A’ cannot be used with a plural noun.

Prepositions
“She arrived at JFK airport on Monday.”
“I arrived at the Hilton in Newyork at 7:00″
Is it correct if I replace ‘at’ with ‘to’ in the above sentences? = No. The preposition ‘to’ is not used after the verb ‘arrive.’

= )

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69 Ryan July 16, 2013 at 3:52 am

Hi, I have questions.

He also serves as Chairman of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.
He was appointed Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Total.
He is director of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China

Why do these sentences not have an article? Seems like “a” or “the” should be placed in front of chairman or director. I assume when you are referring to positions, you do not place any articles?

Also, when you use “university”, you don’t use an article. But, I see many cases where people say something like “the” University of California. Why is an article needed in this case?

I always wanted to know these and I encountered this website. Please explain :)

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Melanie 70 Melanie July 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Hi, Ryan!

1. Job titles
“He also serves as Chairman of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.”
“He was appointed Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Total.”

Why do these sentences not have an article? Seems like “a” or “the” should be placed in front of chairman or director. I assume when you are referring to positions, you do not place any articles?
= There is only one chairman of a company. His actual title is ‘Chairman’ so ‘the’ or no article is used.

“He is director of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China”
How many directors are there? If there is only one, then use ‘the’ or no article. If there is more than one, use ‘a’.
“He is A director of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China” = He is one of many directors.
“He is THE of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China” = He is the only director.

2. University names
Also, when you use “university”, you don’t use an article. But, I see many cases where people say something like “the” University of California. Why is an article needed in this case?

University names are confusing! I discussed this in comment #64 when commenter ‘Napoleon’ asked the same question.

When the name of the university starts with ‘University,’ always use ‘the,’ for example,
The University of Toronto
The University of the Philippines
The University of Southern California

When ‘University’ is NOT the first word in the NAME of the university, don’t use ‘the,’ for example,
Oxford University
McGill University
Harvard University

= )

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71 Chalapathi July 22, 2013 at 12:24 am

Hi Melaine,

Thank you very much for helping people in clearing there doubts patiently and most important clearly.Thank u Thank u very much..

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72 neeta July 24, 2013 at 4:59 am

Use active voice in this sentence.

NOT: Use THE active voice in this sentence.

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Melanie 73 Melanie July 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Is this a question?

‘Use the active voice in this sentence’ is correct.

= )

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74 Monique Buckner July 27, 2013 at 3:35 pm

A student of mine said, ‘When my boyfriend and I were the students, we went camping often.’.

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Melanie 75 Melanie July 27, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Hi, Monique,

Your student should have said, ‘When my boyfriend and I were students, we often went camping.’

= )

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76 Bernat August 6, 2013 at 5:05 am

Hi there,

Very interesting post, by the way!

What about that:

“While return on investment (ROI) and growth rate on investment have mantained equal, internal return rate (IRR) has been rising considerably (from 7,6% up to 16,9%).”

Do you think the sentence is correctly written or not? I doubt whether I should write ‘the’ in front of “return on investment” as well as “growth rate on investment” and “internal return rate”.

I wrote them how they better sounded to my ear, but the truth is that I am talking about particular figures of a particular investment. Must the expression “return on investment”, e.g., be considered as a noun?

greetings from barcelona

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Melanie 77 Melanie August 6, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Hi, Bernat!

This is a really interesting question!

“While return on investment (ROI) and growth rate on investment have mantained equal, internal return rate (IRR) has been rising considerably (from 7,6% up to 16,9%).”

[A quick note: 'maintained equal' is not correct. You can say 'remained steady' or 'remained equal.' Also, in American English use a decimal point in %: 7.6%, 16.9%]

My first question is, which ROI & growth rates is this sentence talking about? Is this sentence talking about ROI on a specific investment, or ROI on investments in the economy in general?

If this sentence is talking about a specific investment, then you should use ‘the’:
“While the ROI and growth rate on investment have remained equal, the IRR has been rising considerably (from 7.6% up to 16.9%).”

If this sentence is just talking about what’s happening in the economy in general, you don’t need to use ‘the’:
“While ROI and growth rate on investments have remained equal, IRR has been rising considerably (from 7.6% up to 16.9%).”

= )

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78 farha August 7, 2013 at 2:04 am

Ram bought an eraser,the scale and the pencil from the market.

use of article is correct or not

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Melanie 79 Melanie August 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Hi, Farha!

Here is a much better way to ask your question:

“Hi, Melanie! I have a question for you. Is the use of ‘the’ in this sentence correct?

“Ram bought an eraser, the scale and the pencil from the market.”

Thanks,
Farha.”

~

It all depends on the context of the conversation.

a) If you are just listing for someone everything that Ram bought at the market, but you don’t have the items with you:
“Ram bought an eraser, a scale & a pencil from the market.”

b) If you are looking at all the items Ram bought, & you want to tell someone that he bought them at the market:
“Ram bought the eraser, the scale & the pencil from the market.”

c) If you are listing all the items that Ram bought, but you can’t see the eraser (you can only see the scale & the pencil):
“Ram bought an eraser, the scale and the pencil from the market.”

Generally, though, in English you want to keep a list in the same form. A) & b) are the best sentences.

= )

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80 farha August 8, 2013 at 12:32 am

Hi, Melanie!
Thanks a lot for improving and answering my question,next time time i will ask in same way as u suggested.

Thanks,
Farha.”

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81 hakim August 25, 2013 at 2:25 am

i regard from your listen i like your method of learning English

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82 Chalapathi September 5, 2013 at 3:29 am

Dear Melaine,

I am very happy to find a valuable site and a teacher to learn articles with reasoning. I have few doubts in the below mentioned questions. Please guide in answering the questions with reasoning.
1. ….locker room sanitation is usually a good indication of how clean other areas are.
Which article to be used here?

2.Try to talk to other members of the club. Find out what they believe are …..advantages and disadvantages there.
Which article should we use here? I go for ‘the’ but couldn’t give proper reason to myself why ‘the’ to be used.

3.First, know what you want and need in ___ fitness facility, and don’t pay for what you’ll never use.
which article to use ‘a’ or ‘the’ and why?

4.You may find out too late that ___ health clubs aren’t for you.
which article to use ‘a’ or ‘the’ and why?

Are you shopping for ___ health club to join so you can get in shape?
which article to use ‘a’ or ‘the’ and why?

Thank you very much.

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Melanie 83 Melanie September 8, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Hi, Chalapathi,

1. ….locker room sanitation is usually a good indication of how clean other areas are.
Which article to be used here? NO ARTICLE NEEDED.
- you are talking about ‘locker room sanitation’ in general, not about a specific locker room or problem.

2. Try to talk to other members of the club. Find out what they believe are THE advantages and disadvantages there.
Which article should we use here? I go for ‘the’ but couldn’t give proper reason to myself why ‘the’ to be used.
- you want specific advantages & disadvantages from the club members

3. First, know what you want and need in A fitness facility, and don’t pay for what you’ll never use.
which article to use ‘a’ or ‘the’ and why?
- you are not talking about a specific fitness facility; you want to join a fitness facility, but you don’t know which one yet.

4. You may find out too late that ___ health clubs aren’t for you. NO ARTICLE NEEDED
which article to use ‘a’ or ‘the’ and why?
- obviously you can’t use ‘a’ because ‘health clubs’ is plural; you are not talking about a specific health club, but health clubs in general.

5. Are you shopping for A health club to join so you can get in shape?
which article to use ‘a’ or ‘the’ and why?
= you want to join one health club, but you don’t have a specific health club yet.

= )

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84 Arun Kishore September 8, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Dear Ma’am Melanie,

I came across common usage (spoken) of verb-noun combinations like… ‘drives cars’, ‘sings songs’. Is the usage correct ? Or, should we restrict ourselves to their usage like, ‘sings a song’ or ‘sings many songs’ ?
Please do offer some guidance.

Regards,

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Melanie 85 Melanie September 8, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Hi, Arun,

“Drives cars” and “sings songs” are fine. There is no need to restrict yourself.

= )

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86 Arun Kishore September 8, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Thank you Ma’am !
You are doing a good work ! I learn a lot about my mistakes, when I read your notes on this portal.

Regards,

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87 Arun Kishore September 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Dear Ma’am,

I came across the advise from a book [Pauline collen, Cambridge] – ‘If you use a plural noun, you must use a plural verb. The verb must ‘agree’ with the noun’. Further the book mentions ‘play’ as a plural verb and ‘plays’ as a singular verb. This caused the ambiguity of the veracity of usage like ‘drives cars’ and ‘sings song’. Is this an exception ? Or is the use permitted because of the uncountable nouns ?

Thanking you,

Regards,

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Melanie 88 Melanie September 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Hello Arun,

What is the name of the book?

Are you sure she wasn’t talking about subject+verb agreement? ‘Drives cars’ & ‘sings songs’ is verb + object.

People sing songs.
She sings songs.

People play games.
She plays games.

People drive cars.
She drives cars.

= )

89 Arun Kishore September 8, 2013 at 10:19 pm

A correction in my earlier question –

Please read ‘sings songs’. I mistakenly typed it as ‘sings song’. Also, I am not sure if we can call the usage as uncountable noun. Song is singular, while songs is plural – so this does not qualify as an uncountable noun. Please correct me.

Regards,

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90 Arun Kishore September 9, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Dear Ma’am Melanie,

Thank you for the clarification. The book I referred to was “Common Mistakes at IELTS Intermediate … and how to Avoid Them” by Pauline Cullen, 2007, Cambridge press. In the book, she is talking about noun+verb usage.

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91 Zoey September 10, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Hello,

Help me to correct below sentence:

……. to preserve politeness of female.

Should I put “the” before politeness? I always confuse when it comes to use “the”

Please help.

Thanks!

Reply

Melanie 92 Melanie September 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Hi, Zoey!

Yes, you need ‘the.’ However, you sentence doesn’t make sense. Are you trying to translate directly from your language into English?

“…to preserve the politeness…” is not an English expression. When I googled “preserve politeness,” there are only 537 results, and most of them refer to things said in an older time. It is not common or natural.

Also, “of female” is not correct.

You could say, “…to preserve the politeness of women,” but that is not a natural way of speaking or writing. It sounds very formal and old-fashioned.

= )

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93 Henry October 12, 2013 at 7:43 am

Dear Ma’am Melanie,
I have come across in some book written that ‘The’ cannot be used before non-countable noun (mass noun) but how come the following sentence is written.
They decided to sell the furniture.
Here in this sentence furniture is uncountable. Ma’am could you please explain and clarify my doubt…
I’m looking forward for your reply….Thanks in anticipation.

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Melanie 94 Melanie October 16, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Hi, Henry!

You don’t need to use ‘Ma’am’ in your greeting. Just say, “Dear Melanie”.

There’s no rule that ‘the’ cannot be used before non-countable nouns. You can’t use ‘a’ or ‘an’ before non-countable nouns, but ‘the’ is fine.

‘The’ is used when you want to talk about something specific. If you are talking about something in general, don’t use ‘the’.

“They decided to sell the furniture.” – specific (the furniture in their house)
“We need furniture.” – general. They have no furniture. They need furniture.

= )

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95 Henry October 24, 2013 at 5:40 am

Dear Melanie,
Thank you very much for your clarification. I have learnt many things from you. And I hope you’ll always be the same kind teacher and help us out in our grammatical problem……and I’ll ask the same type of question after a short time. May God bless you.
Thank you very much

Regards,

Reply

96 Meithy October 29, 2013 at 12:53 am

Dear Melanie,
I often get confused whether or not it’s necessary in using or not using article. Earlier I read in a website that there’s no need to put article after preposition. (I find it hard to get out of bed when it’s time to go to school). But what about “Last Sunday i went to the Zoo and saw the Kangaroos there.” Why use article on that sentence? Is it because in the first sentence I don’t talk about a specific bed, it’s difficult to wake up to start your day no matter which bed you’re sleeping on? And the second sentence we use article even after preposition because here we’re talking about a particular zoo and a group of kangaroos, not any kangaroos?

What about this, which is the best sentence: The meeting was cancelled due to bad weather or the meeting was cancelled due to the bad weather ??

Thanks in advance. All the best!

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Melanie 97 Melanie November 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Hi, Meithy!

To be honest, I’ve never heard or read that “there’s no need to put article after preposition.” Did the website specify if it meant an indefinite or definite article?

“I find it hard to get out of bed when it’s time to go to school.”
In this case, ‘get out of bed’ and ‘go to school’ are verb phrases. They are collocations. We always say those words together without an article.
“Where did you go to school?”
“I can’t get out of bed in the mornings.”

“Last Sunday I went to the zoo and saw the kangaroos there.”
Here are you are talking about something specific. Which zoo? The zoo in your town/city. We saw some/lots of/the kangaroos (the kangaroos at the zoo).

“The meeting was cancelled due to bad weather.”
“The meeting was cancelled due to the bad weather.”
Both are correct. Often when we are reporting news, especially in a newspaper headline, the small words are left out, so you will see ‘bad weather’ without an article.

= )

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98 takeharu gima October 29, 2013 at 5:33 am

Hello Melanie;
Although I have been studying English for many decades, I still cannot use English articles correctly. Your “Where not to use the!” post was very helpful but it got me totally confused because one of your entries seemed to directly contradict one of the definite article usages cases listed in the OED. The OED lists a case where “the” is used “to refer to things in general than particular” with an example like “He plays the piano.” What I suspect is there could be a subtle but very important difference between what you and OED mean by “things in general” which both you and the OED understand but I do not. I would appreciate it very much if you could help me understand contradicting “do-use” and “do-no-use” of the definite articles under the exact same noun classification of “things in general.” Thank you and best regards.
Stillconfused.

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Melanie 99 Melanie November 2, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Hi, Takeharu Gima!

Are you asking specifically about musical instruments? It’s better to just focus on that if you want to know why ‘the’ is used in “He plays the piano.”

I haven’t seen the listing in the OED that you are referring to, so I can’t comment on what it says. Section #1 in my post above is correct, and all the example sentences are correct.

It’s important to remember that native speakers never learned these ‘rules.’ It’s just something we feel from listening to English for so long.

Here’s a discussion forum that goes into a much deeper discussion about ‘the’ with musical instruments.
http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/6635/omission-of-definite-article-with-musical-instruments

Without ‘the’:
“I love pianos.”
“Pianos make beautiful music.”
“He plays piano, guitar, and drums.”
“He played piano for the Beatles.”

With ‘the’:
“I love to play the piano.”
“I’ve played the piano for 16 years.”

= )

Reply

100 takeharu gima November 4, 2013 at 1:36 am

Melanie,
After reading the linked post regarding musical instruments, I now think I understand. The piano in the example I mentioned probably meant a position in an ensemble ( orchestra?) not the instrument itself. So it makes perfect sense. Thank you for clarifying my confusion.

have a nice day,

T . Gima

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101 Sait November 8, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Hi Melanie;

I have been studying English for the better part of the last two decades, but I still experience difficulties especially when it comes to articles. You can’t know how frustrating this is. I have denied my weaknesses for a long time, but I have recently learned, the hard way, that it is time to address these problems. I’d appreciate if you could answer the questions below:

1. I have been reading a book called “Man, the State, and War”. The book talks about the relationship between the three concepts, the three “ideas” if you like. In any case, there is no categorical difference in the way that the author handles the concepts. So why not “Man, State, and War”?
2. Some books have “the” in their titles, such as “The Modern Middle East”, or “The Making of the Atomic Bomb”; and some don’t, such as “Promised Land, Crusader State”,or “Thirteen Days”. Is this an arbitrary decision? Does it have a grammatical basis?
2. How about phrases such as “…they declared war against the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire.” Do I need to repeat the “the” after the first one? Would it be alright if I said “…they declared war against the Ottoman Empire and German Empire.” How about “…they declared war against the Ottoman and (the?) German Empires.”
3. “…this created (the?) fertile ground for the European states to get involved…”

I tried to read all entries before asking my questions. Then again, apologies if any of my questions is redundant. Thank you very much in advance.

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Melanie 102 Melanie November 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Hi, Sait!

I wouldn’t beat yourself up for not knowing these things. This isn’t a weakness! This is how you learn! You can’t memorize every rule in English. You are at a very advanced level now, and you are coming to the stage were you will soon just feel what the right answer is.

Here are my thoughts on your points. It’s important to remember that there aren’t always ‘rules’ to follow. Native speakers didn’t memorize these rules out of a textbook. We just know that some things sound right and some don’t!

1. “Man, the State, and War”
‘The state’ is a different concept than ‘state.’ If the title was “Man, State, and War,” it would be confusing because ‘state’ is a noun, verb, & adjective, whereas ‘the state’ is a distinct concept (a particular kind of government or politically organized society).

2. Book titles
Book titles don’t have a separate set of rules. ‘The Middle East’ is the name of the geographical region, so that’s why ‘the’ is included in the title. ‘The making of’ is a fixed expression & a common expression.

3. Empires
“The _______ Empire” is the name, so ‘the’ is always used: the Ottoman Empire, the German Empire, the British Empire
Would it be alright if I said “…they declared war against the Ottoman Empire and German Empire.” – No!
How about “…they declared war against the Ottoman and German Empires.” – Yes!

4. “…this created (the?) fertile ground for the European states to get involved…”
‘Fertile ground’ isn’t normally used with an article.

= )

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103 Barbara November 14, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Hi Melanie,
As a proof-reader for an educational institute I go crazy trying to impress the content creators that ‘the’ must come before the word ‘students’ at the start of a sentence. For example, -‘Students will make their own…’
Is this acceptable?

I notice you haven’t used it mid-way in your sentence.

Thanks,
Barbara

Reply

Melanie 104 Melanie November 14, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Hi, Barbara!

If you are talking about a specific group of students, for example the students in a class or in a school, then you need to use ‘the.’ However, if you are just talking about students in general, any students, then you don’t need to use ‘the.’ Also, if you are giving instructions, like “Students will make their own …”

“I notice you haven’t used it mid-way in your sentence.” Which sentence are you referring to?

= )

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105 Héctor November 16, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Hello, Melanie

I was wondering if “the” must be used before the name of Laws or Acts. I think that they must be treated as the name of persons, places or holidays (i.e not placing the definite article before them), but I still find writings like this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriot_Act, and I have not been able to find literature that solves this doubt for me. I hope you can help me out.

Thank you for your time!

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Melanie 106 Melanie November 21, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Hi, Hector!

I’m not sure why ‘the’ wasn’t used in the title of that Wikipedia entry. You’ll notice, however, ‘the’ is used in the very first sentence of the entry:
“The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 is an Act of Congress that was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001″

‘The’ should be used before the names of laws or acts. For example, there is another entry related to the Patriot Act:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_USA_PATRIOT_Act

It looks like Wikipedia has made the decision not use ‘the’ in the title of the entries. This does not mean ‘the’ is not needed.

= )

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107 Kristoff December 2, 2013 at 2:58 am

Hello Everybody,

All those who think there are definite rules for the use of the definite article in English should forsake all hope.
Look at these genuine English phrases (you can google them out in Bristish texts ):

the English people but
English people who haven`t got the faintest clue what they are talking about

the second phrase is less general than the first, still it has no article.

Can anyone explain that?

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Melanie 108 Melanie December 30, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Hello Kristoff,

“The English people …”
“English people who haven’t got the faintest clue what they are talking about …”

It would be helpful if you could type the complete sentence instead of just a phrase. Context really helps to understand articles.

The second sentence is much more specific than the first phrase. The first phrase is talking about all the people who live in English or who consider themselves English. The second sentence talks about a very specific group of English people, “English people who …” This phrase includes a relative clause to give more information about the people.

= )

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109 Messi December 8, 2013 at 8:27 am

Hi, Melanie. It’s my first time to leave a comment. I come across a problem about the usage of articles.

Here are three examples.
Companies in Canada pay very high taxes.
Researchers from the University of xxx
The people I met there were very friendly.

In the first sentence, companies don’t use the. But what I mean is companies that are in Canada not companies in general. I have the same puzzle why researches don’t use the in the second sentence. I can’t figure out why people use the in the third sentence.

I would appreciate it if you can help me solve the problem.

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Melanie 110 Melanie December 30, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Hi, Messi!

This is a very interesting question.
1. & 2. In these two sentence, the specific companies & researchers are not important. We don’t care which companies pay very high taxes or which researchers. Both of these sentences also seem like introductory sentences. For example, “Researchers from the University of xxx discovered a cure for cancer.” could be a sentence at the start of the article, but later on in the article, a sentence might say, “The researchers used data from previous studies…”

3. “The people I met there were very friendly.”
This is a very specific sentence. It talks about a very specific group of people: “The people (that) I met there …” It’s also a specific sentence structure: “The _____ that ….” You can’t say “People (that) I met there …” That doesn’t sound correct to English speakers.

= )

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111 bollazo December 9, 2013 at 1:34 pm

When would you put “the” in front of a family name? I’m sending X’mas cards and I was wondering if it is appropriate to add the definite article in front of a family name. I’ve seen both cases on the cards I received in the past.

Thank you in advance,

Bollazo

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Melanie 112 Melanie December 30, 2013 at 4:54 pm

This is a great question, Bollazo! I’m sorry that I did not reply to your question earlier.

If you’re sending a Christmas card, on the envelope you can write:
The Smiths
100 Main St.
Toronto, Ontario

However, you should write all their names inside the card:
Dear Mr. & Mrs Smith,
or
Dear Alison, John, David, & Kyle (if there are parents & children)

Sometimes people will sign their cards:
Love the Smiths
… but I think this is very impersonal! I would rather see:
Love Alison & John Smith

= )

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113 Robert Keroack January 1, 2014 at 10:44 pm

Hi, thanks for your web site. I’m compiling info about definite article usage for some of my more advanced Mongolian learners and I have now succeeded in confusing myself to the point that I can’t remember (I’ve been here too long!) if we use ‘the’ before the name of a waterfall. Can you give me a bit of help on this particular item??

Thanks muchly,
bob k

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Melanie 114 Melanie February 20, 2014 at 8:41 pm

This is a great question, Bob!

I can’t find any “rule” about this, but I also can’t find any waterfalls with ‘the’ in the name, so I don’t think ‘the’ is used before the name of a waterfall (here’s a list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterfall#Examples_of_famous_waterfalls)

I live about 1 1/2 hours away from Niagara Falls, and I’ve never heard anyone say “The Niagara Falls.” That sounds really odd!

= )

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115 Philipp February 2, 2014 at 10:20 am

Hello Melanie,
first of all ur blog is just awesome :) Second of all I might have a question…what about organizations such as UN, FED, WTO, ECB and so on?
For instance:
(The) FED hast introduced its new CEO.
Egypt became a member of (the) UN.

Is there any rule concerning this matter?

Thank u very much in advance and keep up the good work ;)
Philipp

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Melanie 116 Melanie February 20, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Hi, Philipp!

What is FED? UN, WTO, ECB are all acronyms, meaning that they are the shortened names of an organization, (the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the European Central Bank), using the first letter of each word in the name of the organization.

When I see ‘FED,’ I immediately think of the Federal Reserve Bank in the US, which is not an acronym, and so it’s different from the others. Please let me know if you ‘FED’ means something else.

As for the others, use ‘the’ when each letter in the acronym is pronounced.
For example, U.N. is ‘the you-N.’ So, you need to use ‘the’ in front of each acronym.

If the acronym is said as a word, like NATO, don’t use ‘the’ in front of it.

= )

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117 Philipp March 16, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Thank u very much for ur answer.
By FED I meant the Federal Reserve Bank. Shame on me, that I thought it was an acronym as well ;) So in this case I guess you write FED with an article as well !?
All the best,
Philipp

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Melanie 118 Melanie March 17, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Yes! You’re correct. You need to use ‘the’ with FED.

“5 ways the Fed can get the economy back to normal.” (a recent headline)

Also, I thought FED had to be written in capital letters, but it doesn’t. You can just write ‘Fed.’

= )

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119 .ae February 5, 2014 at 10:46 pm

Hello teacher,

Usually we use ‘the’ before proper nouns, but why do we use ‘an’ before ISBN (International Standard Book Number), dor example, “Does his book have an ISBN?”

For me it is confusing because ISBN is also a proper noun, because in its full form the first letter of each word is a capital letter.

! have one more question. Why do we use AC as an uncountable noun in a sentence. AC is also a machine like ATM, but we use ATM as countable noun.

Thank you, teacher, for your help.

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Melanie 120 Melanie February 20, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Hello .ae,

I combined your three comments & rewrote your comment to make it easier to read.

1. You can use ‘the’ and ‘an’ before ISBN because each of the letters is said individually. It doesn’t matter if it’s a proper noun or not. The important thing is that is a number.
“Does his book have an ISBN?”
“What is the ISBN of his book?”

2. Can you give me a sentence where AC is used as uncountable noun?

= )

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121 .ae February 21, 2014 at 12:37 am

yes teacher i give you the sentence where i read that AC(air conditioning) is a uncountable noun: Turn on the AC.i read that here ac is uncountable noun but the is used with it because we know which ac i mean.but why it is not countable.when we say “turn on the ac” we mean turn on the machine.

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Melanie 122 Melanie February 22, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Hi, .ae!

I think you are confusing yourself. ‘The’ can be used with an uncountable noun. In category #1 above, ‘the’ is not used with uncountable nouns because the nouns are talking about things in general. If you want to talk about something specific, you need to use ‘the’ even if you are talking about an uncountable noun.

“Turn on the AC” could mean turn on the entire air conditioning system, or it could mean turn on one machine. You are still talking about something specific.

= )

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123 .ae February 23, 2014 at 10:11 am

thanx you my dear teacher. :)

124 Hattori February 9, 2014 at 10:17 pm

Hi i have a grammar question! Here is an example from my textbook it says “At the age of four, Alex was in hospital with many other children with cancer.” another example from the same text is “”She spent a lot of time in hospital, but she was never sad. She always helped other people, even in hospital.”
Hospital is a common noun and I thought “the” would be in front of it? Is this British English? If you could please tell me why it is not and a specific rule I’d greatly appreciate your help! Thank you!!

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Melanie 125 Melanie February 20, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Hi, Hattori!

Who wrote your textbook? Was it written by a native speaker or someone from your country? Also, check the first few pages of the textbook. It will usually tell you if the book is teaching British or American English.

I don’t know if this is British English, but here are the correct sentences in American English:
“At the age of four, Alex was in the hospital with many other children with cancer.”
“She spent a lot of time in the hospital, but she was never sad. She always helped other people, even in the hospital.”

= )

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126 Rossella February 18, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Hi Melanie!! I have a doubt, when I translate this sentence: Mona Lisa was stolen in…. (from Italian to English) do I need to put the article ” The ” before Mona Lisa or not??

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Melanie 127 Melanie February 20, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Hi, Rossella!

Yes, you need to say ‘the Mona Lisa.’ I can’t find a specific rule about names of paintings. Usually ‘the’ is included in the title only if the artist wants it to be part of the title. However, because it’s so famous (possibly the most famous painting in the world!), we always use ‘the’ before it.

Also, “I have a doubt” is a Spanish/Portuguese expression that isn’t translated into English. Instead, say “I have a question.”

= )

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128 Keara Mulhern February 19, 2014 at 4:30 am

Hello Melanie,

Thank you for this article. It was very helpful! Could you clarify how I can explain to my students why you say ‘the Eiffel Tower’ but not ‘the Big Ben’?

Thanks,

Keara

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Melanie 129 Melanie February 20, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Hmmm, interesting question, Keara!

‘The Eiffel Tower’ includes the noun ‘tower,’ so it needs ‘the,’ just like ‘the CN Tower,’ or ‘the Leaning Tower of Pisa.’

‘Big Ben’ is the name of the bell inside the tower. The actual name of the tower is ‘the Big Ben Clock Tower.’

= )

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130 nikita February 23, 2014 at 11:27 am

Is it correct to ask “is there any important class on ‘the’ 10th” without mentioning the name of month

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Melanie 131 Melanie March 3, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Hi, Nikita!

“Is there an important class on the 10th?”

Yes, in this case ‘the 10th’ is fine!

If you said the name of the month, then don’t use ‘the’:
“Is there an important class on March 10th?”

= )

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132 Aamir February 28, 2014 at 7:48 am

Teacher Melanie, thank you so much for your help. Please! answer my followings questions:

1. “The climate of Mars was very extreme and different from the climate of the earth” here “the” is used but here “When the earth men landed on Mars five years after the nuclear war on earth(<–)" THE is not used.

2. We should use "the" when a subject is specific. What does the specific mean?. There is any way to identify that what is specific.

Your truly,
Aamir

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Melanie 133 Melanie March 3, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Hi, Aamir!

1.
“The climate of Mars was very extreme and different from the climate of the earth.”

“When the earth men landed on Mars five years after the nuclear war on earth.”

Where did you see /hear these sentences? They sound unnatural to me. “Earth men” is not an expression I’ve seen/heard before. I googled ‘Earth men’ and discovered a 1950 book by Ray Bradbury. Is that where you read these sentences?

The first sentence should be “… from the climate of Earth.” Mars & Earth are both names of planets, and since the writer started the sentence with “The climate of Mars…” (no ‘the’), he should continue with “… from the climate of Earth.” Sometimes native speakers don’t follow grammar “rules” when they write!

2. ‘Specific’ is the opposite of ‘general.’ It means individual, special, or precise.
“Jenny’s cat likes to sleep all day.” – ‘Jenny’s cat’ is a specific cat.
“I love the cat in the window of the pet store.” – ‘the cat in the window of the pet store’ is a specific cat.
The above examples are both talking about individual cats.

“Cats make great pets!” – Which cats? Jenny’s cat? The cat in the window of the pet store? This sentence is talking about all cats in general, not specific cats. Some individual cats (like Jenny’s cat) may not be great pets, but most cats are.

= )

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134 Aamir March 7, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Thank you so much for your reply. Yes, I copied paste this sentence from that novel. This novel is a part of my English lessons. I should not use THE with earth, anywhere, right?

Thanks in advance.

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Melanie 135 Melanie March 8, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Hi, Aamir,

Well, it’s not that simple! There isn’t actually a strict rule about using ‘the’ with Earth!

In your example sentence, “The climate of Mars was very extreme and different from the climate of the earth,” the author shouldn’t have used ‘the’ because of parallel structures. Since he used “the climate of Mars,” he should use the same structure for Earth.

As a rule, ‘the’ is not used with the names of planets, so don’t use ‘the’ with Mars, Venus, Saturn, etc. Therefore, we probably shouldn’t use ‘the’ with Earth. HOWEVER, it is common for people to use ‘the’ to talk about Earth, for example: “The Earth revolves around the sun.” (I used this sentence in another post on my website without even thinking about ‘the’ before Earth!). That’s very common.

In conclusion, even though it is probably *grammatically* incorrect to say “the Earth,” native speakers do. As I said above, sometimes native speakers don’t follow grammar “rules”!

= )

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136 Aamir March 9, 2014 at 10:14 am

hmm…!!! Thanks..!! I listened to a lecture yesterday, where he said that, sun is only one, and we cannot say that, a sun risen (its means that there are many sun, only one sun is come out and other are not risen).That is why, we should use The with sun. Similarly, we should use The with earth because it is only one.I am confuse, earth is a proper noun, we should we use The with it.I think, you will not mind my question.Thanks

137 Chelsea March 4, 2014 at 11:44 pm

Hi Melanie,
Great site, and great discussions! I’m coming up with a company name with a business partnerand we have differing views on whether to have THE in front as part of our name or not. ‘The Illumination Gardens’ or just Illumination Gardens? I’d much prefer dropping the THE and S from garden, but she insists on having both, becaise she wants to stand out from the company Illuminated Garden. I’m really beside myself on this one, i don’t understand why i just don’t feel it’s right to have The in front, especially when gardens is plural. Sh uses the example The body shop, and The olive garden. My poor explanation to her is that in both cases, bith body and olive here act as an adjective qualifying the nouns shop and garden. For us, if we use illumination, it can only be a noun, and thus would not make sense to have The as part of our name. What d’you think, Melanie?
Thanks so much in advance!
Chelsea

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Melanie 138 Melanie March 8, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Hi, Chelsea,

Hmmmm … this is an interesting question.

What kind of business is it? Is your business an actual garden? I can’t find any grammar “rules” about the + gardens, but to me, Illumination Gardens just sounds better, because ‘the’ isn’t normally used in the names of gardens. The first name that comes to mind is Kew Gardens in London, (although technically the full name is the Royal Botanic Gardens, to differentiate it from other Botanic Gardens). Here’s a list of gardens in the U.S. Almost none them have ‘the’ in the title.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_botanical_gardens_in_the_United_States

Also, ‘the’ isn’t normally used in names of companies. According to Wikipedia, the name ‘The Body Shop’ started with a company selling natural cosmetics from an actual car repair & garage (which in English is generically called ‘the body shop’) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Body_Shop.

The name of the restaurant is actually just ‘Olive Garden.’ ‘The’ isn’t an official part of its name: https://www.olivegarden.com/

I hope that helps! My vote is for “Illumination Gardens.” I will think about this some more & let you know if I think of anything else. All the best to you with your new business!

Melanie

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139 Zoe March 12, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Hi Melanie,

How would you explain university acronyms? I feel like they should go against rule #6.

My grad school advisor is a non-native speaker, and he always introduces seminar guests like: “Dr. X got her MS at the UCLA in 2001 and her PhD at the MIT in 2005.” It always sound extremely unnatural to me, but I can’t come up with a concrete reason.

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Melanie 140 Melanie March 12, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Hi, Zoe!

Your grad school advisor is incorrect. He should say,

“Dr. X got her MS at UCLA in 2001 and her PhD at MIT in 2005.”

You are also correct that this goes against category #6! I know, it’s confusing. ‘The’ isn’t used with university acronyms. I’ll add a note to category #6. It’s strange because UCLA’s full name is “the University of California, Los Angeles.”

‘The’ is used before university names that start with ‘University,’ but not university acronyms:
the University of Toronto (U of T)
the University of Southern California (USC)

There’s no specific rule why.

Thanks for your question!
= )

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141 Zoe March 13, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Thanks!

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142 Matija March 18, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Hy Melanie!

I have one short, but for me, very important question. I am planning to open a new e-mail account, and I would like to name it “SunlightChaser” (sunlightchaser@). But, I’m not sure should I put “the” in front of those two words or not? I have another account name which is TheChaser (thechaser@), and I know that is correct. And what about SunlightChaser? I’ve read several articles about use of “the”, but I failed to find a proper answer. Well, your article is helpful, but I still want a conformation from you. If I understood it correctly, I should write TheSunlightChaser, because that is my own account, and not one of many with the same name. Right? Or maybe not?

P.S. Nice to see that you are Canadian. ;-) I plan to go to Canada this year, because I applied for International Experience Canada.

Thanks,
Matija from Croatia

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Melanie 143 Melanie March 24, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Hi, Matija!

This is a personal choice! Both “sunlightchaser” and “thesunlightchaser” are good choices. There is no “correct” choice, it’s just whatever you prefer.

However, you are correct that “sunlightchaser” is like saying you are one of many, and “thesunlightchaser” is like saying, “I am the one and only.”

= )

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144 Matija March 25, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Hey Melanie!

Thank you for your answer which I found were helpful. ;-) I think that I have finally figured out when to use “THE” and when not. As for my new e-mail, I think I’ll go for “thesunlightchaser”, because I like this “the only one” attitude.

So, thank you once again and if I will ever again need help with English language, I know where should I come. :-)

Regards,
Matija

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145 Lale April 6, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Hi Melanie,

Great web site

I am writing from Ottawa. English is my second language but I have been here (working and studying) for 25 years now, so I have no excuse to be still struggling with “the.” Maybe the reason is I have a B.Sc. but I am doing an MA :)

At the university all my articles and papers are coming back with some of the “the” crossed out and some others inserted in places where I had put none. That’s why I visited the site and will visit it regularly from now on because it is very useful. Thank you.

I am writing for a couple of reasons:

1. A slight clarification may be required with your example regarding the lakes:
“Lake Ontario and Lake Huron are 2 of the Great Lakes.”

The example is perfectly correct of course, however “the Great Lakes” seems to be working against the rule of this section. It is “the Great Lakes” (different from Lake Ontario and Lake Huron) because in a “series” of islands, mountain ranges or lakes, the definite article is required, as in The Alpes. You may want to point that out otherwise the visitors to that page may think that the “the” before the “Great Lakes” is a typo but it is not.

2. The “the” that keeps puzzling me in sentences that contain a list of items separated by commas and/or by “and”:

“The tulips, the roses and the carnations were all sold out” or
“The tulips, roses and carnations were all sold out” ?

“The struggles and the achievements of those years …” or
“The struggles and achievements of those years …”?

Thank you very much and all the best,

Lale

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146 Morteza April 8, 2014 at 6:48 am

hi dear teacher
i would be grateful to know about article rules in general statements. could be a singular countable noun used without any article in general statement ?
for example, which of these sentences are true?
banana is yellow? or a banana is yellow ? or bananas are yellow ?
is it true to say ” book is my best friend.” ?

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