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]
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?
*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
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.
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.
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.
*also note: you don’t need an article for subjects you study at school: math, geography, business, history, science
My office is located on Main street.[a street name is also a proper noun]
*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.
*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
*I add this category because I hear it a lot during lessons, especially when students are doing matching activities.
Picture number 6 matches with ‘window’ [an example of a matching activity in class]
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.’
Can you think of any more words or situations that don’t need ‘the‘?
If you would like to learn more about articles in English, or study English grammar in general, I recommend this book:
In this book, you can find the answer to any question you have about English grammar. It’s a reference book not a workbook, so there are no practice activities, but it will tell you everything you need to know about English grammar … and more! The section on ‘articles’ is more than 10 pages. This book is a MUST for English teachers.
Here are some more grammar books that I recommend.