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When to use 'the'

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'The car is my favourite invention.'

Many English learners get confused over when to use the. Here we give you some of the basics.

We use the when we want to talk about something there is only one of: 'the moon; the sun; the north pole.'

The is used with specific things. Compare these two sentences:

'I like the TV we saw in the shop. I might buy it.' Specific TV
'I never watch TV in the morning.' TV in general

'I don't like snakes.' General
'The snakes were put in a special box.' specific

Many places don't need the if we are talking generally:

'I still go to school.' General. Which school is not important.
'The school I go to is called St.Richard's.' Specific


Sometimes we do use the with general places:
'Let's go to the cinema.' We use the, but it is not important which one we go to.

The + singular countable nouns

Take a look at this sentence:

'The snake is the most dangerous animal in the world.'

Here we are talking about a specific type of animal, not just one. We use the singular form here to mean ALL snakes. Do NOT say 'The snakes are the most...'

This is also used with:

'The euro is a strong currency at the moment.'
'The car is my favourite invention.'

The + adjectives

We can say:

'The young are not given enough respect.'

Here we use 'the young' to mean ALL young people in general. We always use the singular not the plural form. Never say 'The youngs' are not given enough respect.'

Here are some more examples:

'The rich have an easy life.'
'The unemployed need more help to find jobs.'
'The Russians are the nicest people I have ever met.'

Never use the with….

We never use the with:

  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Streets, roads, parks etc.
  • Islands
  • Cities and towns
  • Specific mountains
  • Continents
  • Countries (there are some exceptions here: the USA, the Czech Republic)

Link: when to use 'an' & 'a'

  • All you need is ___.

  • Let's go to ____.

  • He studies English all ___.

  • ___ said he should stop smoking.

  • ___ can be dangerous.

  • What did you have for ___?

  • Please don't walk on ___ .

  • I studied ___ in school.

  • He went on holiday to ___ .

  • ___ is a great way to stay healthy.