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)
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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
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)
Exercises: Using Articles with Names of Places
Instructions: Add the definite article `the’ if necessary.
- Prague is the capital of Czech Republic.
- When I was in England, I visited Tower of London.
- Rhine is a river that goes through Netherlands.
- On my trip in Asia, I had a chance to visit Mount Aso and Yangtze River in China.
- I left Hong Kong via Hong Kong International Airport.
- Mohave Desert is located in United States.
- Appalachian Mountains are in North America.
- When I was in New York, I visited Empire State Building and Seneca Lake.
- Sea of Japan is located between Japan and South Korea. It is part of Pacific Ocean.
- MET Museum is located on Fifth Avenue.
- I met a man from New Zealand when I was skiing in Swiss Alps.
- On my trip around the world, I visited Jamaica, Bahamas, Australia, and Republic of Congo.
- John lives on Fraser Street in Sydney.
- Poland is part of European Union.
- 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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