The word “the” is one of the most common words in English. It is our only definite article. Nouns in English are preceded by the definite article when the speaker believes that the listener already knows what he is referring to. The speaker may believe this for many different reasons, some of which are listed below.
Use the to refer to something which has already been mentioned.
Someone has stolen my car. I think the thief ran that way!
This class has a great instructor. The instructor is always prepared.
Use the when you assume there is just one of something in that place, even if it has not been mentioned before.
Is that the last donut?
Where is the closest Dunkin Donuts?
Use the in sentences or clauses where you define or identify a particular person or object.
He is the person who runs the company.
Sarah is the best source of quotes.
Use the to refer to people or objects that are unique.
That is the grand prize for the tournament.
Look! There is the duck that ate my sandwich!
Use the before superlatives and ordinal numbers.
I am the first, he is the second.
Tomorrow will be the 8th day of Hanukah.
Use the with adjectives, to refer to a whole group of people.
They are the loudest hockey fans.
The considerate students share their notes with others.
Use the with decades.
The 1960’s was a turbulent period of time.
Cars weren’t invented until the early 1900’s.
Use the with clauses introduced by only.
My friend is the only person I can trust.
They are the only band I listen to.
Use the with names of geographical areas, rivers, mountain ranges, groups of islands, canals, and oceans.
Have you had a chance to hike the Santa Monica Mountains?
Those boats are on the Mississippi River.
Use the with countries that have plural names.
Let’s go to the Philippines next year!
I’ve never been to the Netherlands.
Use the with countries that include the words “republic”, “kingdom”, or “states” in their names.
Vanessa is from the United States.
The Republic of China is the largest communist country in the world.
Use the with newspaper names.
Have you read the Boston Globe today?
The Los Angeles Times has a small comics section.
Use the with art, museums, or monuments.
The Museum of Fine Art is very close to campus.
I can see the Hollywood sign from my front yard!
Use the with the names of hotels & restaurants, unless these are named after a person.
The W Hotel is the finest hotel in the city.
You can find great drinks at the Standard Hotel.
Use the with the names of families, but not with the names of individuals.
I heard the Andersons will be joining us for dinner.
The Kim family are moving away soon.
Do not use the with names of countries (except for the special cases above).
Let’s go to Switzerland next summer!
Canada is famous for their talented hockey players.
Do not use the with the names of languages.
You are here to learn English.
Does anyone know Swahili?
Do not use the with the names of meals.
I ate breakfast with John, lunch with Jody and dinner with James.
Breakfast is my favorite meal!
Do not use the with people’s names.
This is Nathan.
That is not Nathan.
Do not use the with titles when combined with names.
Mr. Al Malki saw many celebrities while visiting New York.
Mrs. Ferrera and Mr. Cumberbock work at the same school.