Grammar: The Definite Article (‘The’) with Names of Places

English Level: Upper-Intermediate, Advanced

Language Focus: A review of when to use the definite article with the names of places

Worksheet Download: definite-article-geography-worksheet.docx (scroll down to study the exercises online)

Jump to: Exercises


A proper noun is the unique name of a person, place, or thing that starts with a capital letter, for example, ‘John’, ‘Sweden’, ‘Google’. Before proper nouns, we generally do not use an article. For example,

  • Matthew is a man.
  • He lives in Canada.
  • He worked for IBM.

However, sometimes you can find the definite article ‘the‘ before proper nouns.

  • Carver lives in the United States.
  • He lives near the Pacific Ocean.

Why? Well, it’s hard to give a reason. However, there are some rules we can follow. Please read below and do the exercises to practice.

boats on the Pacific Ocean

Boats on the Pacific Ocean

Rule #1: Use the Definite Article ‘The’ with Countries that are States, Unions, Republics, etc.


We use ‘the’ before countries that contain a word like ‘Union’, ‘Emirates’, ‘Kingdom.’ These words mean that the country is a group of smaller states.

  • the United States
  • the Republic of Ireland
  • the Czech Republic
  • the United Arab Emirates

We also use ‘the’ before countries that end in a plural ‘s’.

  • the Philippines (= the full name is The Republic of the Philippines)
  • the Bahamas (= the full name is The Republic of the Bahamas)
  • the Netherlands

 

Rule #2: Use the Definite Article ‘The’ with Names of Rivers, Seas, Oceans, etc.


We say the following:

  • the Nile / the Nile River
  • the Caspian Sea
  • the Pacific / the Pacific Ocean
  • the Mediterranean / the Mediterranean Sea
  • the Panama Canal

Rule #3: Use the Definite Article ‘The’ with Deserts


  • the Sahara / the Sahara Desert

 

Rule #4: Do Not Use ‘the’ with Lakes or Mounts


  • I live by Lake Ontario.
  • I swam in Lake Superior.
  • He can see Mount Fuji.
  • She can see Mount Rushmore.

 

Rule #5 – Use the Definite Article ‘The’ with Mountain Ranges


Just like how we add ‘the’ to countries that end with a plural ‘s’ (the Philippines), we add ‘the’ before mountain ranges (which also end in a plural noun).

  • the Rockies / the Rocky Mountains
  • the Himalayas / the Himalayan Mountains 

 

Rule #6 – Use the Definite Article ‘The’ with Building Names


We usually use ‘the’ before the names of buildings.

  • the Emperor’s Palace
  • the Tower of Pisa
  • the Louvre
  • the Pentagon
  • The Marriott / The Marriott Hotel

This is not true, however, in some cases:

  • The names of stations: Grand Central Station, Main Station
  • The names of airports: Pearson Airport, Gatwick Airport
  • The names of universities (without ‘of’): Columbia University, Santa Monica College

General Rule: Use the Definite Article ‘The’ with Names that Have the Preposition ‘Of’


  • the Island of Lesbos
  • the University of Toronto
  • the Republic of Congo
  • the Gulf of Mexico

 

To summarize, use ‘the’ before the following:

  • proper nouns that contain a word that means they are a group (unions, republics, etc.)
  • deserts (the Mojave)
  • rivers, seas, oceans, etc. (but not lakes!)
  • mountain ranges (the Rockies)
  • building names (the Pentagon)
  • proper nouns that include ‘of’ (the University of Michigan)

Do not use ‘the’ for everything else, which includes

  • lake names (Lake Superior)
  • mounts (Mount Everest)
  • street names (Main Street)
  • airports (JFK Airport)
  • stations (Broadway Station)

After reviewing the above rules, try the practice exercises below.

Exercises: Using Articles with Names of Places

Instructions: Add the definite article ‘the’ if necessary.

  1.  Prague is the capital of  Czech Republic.
  2. When I was in  England, I visited  Tower of London.
  3.  Rhine is a river that goes through  Netherlands.
  4. On my trip in  Asia, I had a chance to visit  Mount Aso and  Yangtze River in  China.

  

 

  1. I left  Hong Kong via  Hong Kong International Airport.
  2.  Mohave Desert is located in  United States.
  3.  Appalachian Mountains are in  North America.
  4. When I was in  New York, I visited  Empire State Building and  Seneca Lake.
  5.  Sea of Japan is located between  Japan and  South Korea. It is part of  Pacific Ocean.

  

  1.  MET Museum is located on  Fifth Avenue.
  2. I met a man from  New Zealand when I was skiing in  Swiss Alps.
  3. On my trip around the world, I visited  Jamaica,  Bahamas,  Australia, and  Republic of Congo.
  4. John lives on  Fraser Street in  Sydney.
  5.  Poland is part of  European Union.
  6. The tourist arrived at  Manaus Airport and then took a tour of  Amazon River.

  

 

I hope these general rules about article use will be helpful. If you find a mistake or have any questions, please leave a comment below.

Best of luck in your English studies.

– Created by Matthew Barton (copyright) of Englishcurrent.com

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39 comments on “Grammar: The Definite Article (‘The’) with Names of Places

  1. Lenka (Posted on 2-25-2017 at 14:59) Reply

    Hello, is Honk Kong IA written with the definite article?

    1. Lenka (Posted on 2-25-2017 at 15:01) Reply

      Hong :D

      1. mb Post author (Posted on 2-26-2017 at 19:42) Reply

        Hello Lenka. No, it doesn’t need an article.

  2. Anonymous (Posted on 7-1-2017 at 09:44) Reply

    in exercise I noticed that before “Hong Kong Int. Airport” definite article “The” was used but before “Manaus Airport” not. Why?

    1. MB (Posted on 7-1-2017 at 12:46) Reply

      Thanks, your comment and the previous one were about the same thing — I’ve fixed it now.

  3. Aditya (Posted on 10-14-2017 at 11:52) Reply

    Good exercise for them who are learning articles

    1. Honey (Posted on 11-21-2019 at 14:51) Reply

      Very useful exercises, thank you so much

  4. Deepak (Posted on 9-26-2018 at 00:54) Reply

    When ordinals take definite article than in the above exercise why th definite article not used with fifth avenue

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-26-2018 at 02:10) Reply

      Hello. If you were referring to the avenue in an ordinal sense (i.e. as part of an order of numbered items), then it would be the fifth avenue. However, we can see that ‘Fifth’ is capitalized, which means it’s a proper noun, i.e. the name of the street. For street names, no article is needed.

  5. Bryan (Posted on 10-3-2018 at 14:21) Reply

    Hello! What about “the” in front of the names of creeks , streams, etc.? You usually hear Mill Creek not the Mill Creek or Meadow Branch instead of the Meadow Branch. Are there any rules you can point to explain the definite article for such uses?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 10-3-2018 at 21:14) Reply

      Hi Bryan. I don’t know a rule. I would say generally no article is used, as you have mentioned. It is funny that is different from rivers that require an article though.

  6. savio (Posted on 6-20-2019 at 12:44) Reply

    Can we use the boefore the state of california

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 6-21-2019 at 11:23) Reply

      Yes

  7. Feby (Posted on 7-25-2019 at 21:42) Reply

    your answer for number 3 Appalacchian Mountains …………. Is that correct? I think the answer should with ‘The’

    1. MB (Posted on 7-25-2019 at 23:15) Reply

      Yes, you are right. Thanks! I’ve fixed the mistake.

  8. Robertaa (Posted on 8-7-2019 at 10:51) Reply

    i love this page and the exercises

    1. Robertaas por el mundo (Posted on 8-7-2019 at 10:51) Reply

      me too

      1. Yunita (Posted on 2-4-2020 at 21:26) Reply

        Which one is correct :
        1. I want to go to the Sydney Opera house.
        Or
        2. I want to go to Sydney Opera house.

        Thank you!

        1. mb Post author (Posted on 2-5-2020 at 01:57) Reply

          1. And it you should capitalize the H in House because that’s part of its name.

  9. Alen (Posted on 10-9-2019 at 10:12) Reply

    Can we use “a” with the proper names like here: “He is a Lomonosov of the field”.?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 10-9-2019 at 15:14) Reply

      Yes.

  10. Philipp (Posted on 4-13-2020 at 11:49) Reply

    those the-s are so tricky!

  11. Julija (Posted on 5-18-2020 at 07:51) Reply

    This was good

  12. Galou (Posted on 6-4-2020 at 11:08) Reply

    Hello !
    Why do we say “Central Park” without “the”? Is there a rule ??

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 6-4-2020 at 13:04) Reply

      Hello. I’m not aware of any formal rule but it does seem like we do not use ‘the’ before park names. Here in Vancouver we have Stanley Park, for example. (no article).

  13. Shireen (Posted on 7-15-2020 at 10:42) Reply

    Hello. Can you tell me which one of these is correct:
    The Krugen Park is located near the Mozambique border. or The Krugen Park is located near Mozambique border.

    1. Shireen (Posted on 7-15-2020 at 10:43) Reply

      Sorry I meant The Kruger Park

    2. mb Post author (Posted on 7-15-2020 at 15:36) Reply

      Krugen Park is located near the Mozambique border. (no ‘The’ with Krugen Park, but ‘the’ with border).

  14. Rita (Posted on 8-24-2020 at 19:06) Reply

    Hi. Why Caspian sea has “the”. My teacher said it does need any article

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 8-25-2020 at 02:11) Reply

      Bodies of water, such as the Caspian Sea, typically have ‘the’ in front of them.

  15. Andrew Lister (Posted on 9-5-2020 at 11:40) Reply

    I was interested to stumble across your article, because I was just wondering why a few cities also take the definite article as part of their names. My missing was triggered by A Coruña in Galicia, but I also know of Den Haag in the Netherlands. I cannot think quickly of any other examples, but you don’t seem to have a rule encompassing these cases. Can you shed any light upon what is going on here, since you have clearly thought about this much more than I have?

    1. AL (Posted on 9-5-2020 at 11:42) Reply

      I meant to write ‘musing’ not ‘missing’, in case that was not clear!

    2. mb Post author (Posted on 9-5-2020 at 21:03) Reply

      Hello. I haven’t thought about it *that* much more than you have; most of the rules above are taken from grammar books that I felt accurately represented how we use the definite article. As for articles in non-English, your guess is as good as mine. My guess, for example for The Hague, is that ‘hague’ means something such like ‘the Capital’ (the web suggests so), so everyone in the region always referred to the city as ‘the capital’, and knew exactly which capital they were referring to, and the name was borne from that.

  16. Andrew L (Posted on 9-9-2020 at 00:35) Reply

    Ha! A Galician friend of mine has just pointed out Los Angeles, La Paz and El Alamo…
    So it seems it is much more common in Spanish than in English to use the The in place names.
    Makes me think of Las Ramblas, too. But then my mind leaps to the Shambles in York. Except that it is usually just that, the ‘the’ is not usually capitalized as part of the name, is it? Or The Lanes in Brighton, or The Mall in London. But then, those are all really just street names, not cities or towns. So that is really a different use-case, isn’t it?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-9-2020 at 22:09) Reply

      I’m not familiar with most of these places, so I can’t hazard a guess. Generally my assumption is the same as for The Hague — whatever word comes after ‘the’ was the only one of that thing (e.g. lanes, mall) in the past, hence the use of the definite article.

  17. Yegor Zaytsev (Posted on 10-4-2020 at 12:01) Reply

    Thank you!:)

  18. amin baghi fariman (Posted on 11-13-2020 at 02:39) Reply

    thank you very much

  19. Andrew (Posted on 11-24-2020 at 06:20) Reply

    Everyone in the family bullied her and made her do all the chores, she was indeed a Cinderella.
    This is a practice question, so I wanna ask why it uses “a” not “the” before Cinderella.
    is there any other example or rule?

    1. MB (Posted on 11-24-2020 at 08:54) Reply

      Hello. Firstly, that sentence is a comma splice (run-on sentence). Regarding the article, either could be used. If you say “she was indeed a Cinderella”, you are saying that there are many/several Cinderellas in the world, and she is one of them. If you say that ‘she was the Cinderella’, you are saying that every family has a cinderella (just like every family has a mother), and in this family, she is _the_ cinderella (just like the mother is _the_ mother) of the family. I hope that helps.

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