I know what you’re thinking. There are no easy rules for using “the.” It is true that articles (a/an/the) are very difficult to master, but here are five simple rules you can start using today.
1. Use “the” with names of rivers, seas, and oceans, but not lakes.
We use “the” with the names of rivers and oceans. We do not use “the” with the names of lakes. It’s a weird rule, but it’s not difficult.
- the Nile (or the Nile river)
- the Amazon (or the Amazon river)
- the Mississippi (or the Mississippi river)
- the Mediterranean Sea (or the Mediterranean)
- the Caribbean Sea (or the Caribbean)
- the Atlantic Ocean (or the Atlantic)
- the Pacific Ocean (or the Pacific)
- Lake Johnson (NOT the Lake Johnson)
- Jordan Lake (NOT the Jordan Lake)
2. Use “the” with some country names.
We use “the” with names of countries that:
- include a noun as part of the name (state, republic, kingdom, etc.) – the United States, the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic, the People’s Republic of China
- include a plural word – the United States, the Philippines, the Netherlands
We do not use “the” with names of most countries – China, South Korea, Mexico, Spain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Brazil.
3. Use “the” for mountain and island chains (groups), but not for individual mountains or islands.
In these sentences, notice that the name of the tallest mountain does not use “the,” but the name of the mountain chain does use “the.”
- Mount Mitchell is the tallest mountain in the Appalachian Mountains.
- Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain in the Alps.
In these sentences, notice that the name of the biggest island does not use “the,” but the name of the island chain does use “the.”
- Andros is the biggest island in the Bahamas.
- Tenerife is the biggest island in the Canary Islands.
4. Use “the” with superlative words.
We always use “the” when we use superlative adjectives and adverbs (best, worst, most, least, biggest, smallest, etc.).
- the tallest mountain
- the biggest island
- the best singer
- the worst restaurant
- the hottest pepper
5. Use “the” with ordinal numbers.
We usually use “the” with numbers that show order (first, second, third, etc.).
- I live on the third floor.
- Nora is always the first student to arrive.
- On November 21, 1789, North Carolina became the twelfth state.
Of course, there are many more rules for using “the” in English, but you can start with these five.
In these sentences, decide if the spaces need “the” or not.
- On my vacation, I visited ____ Cayman Brac in ____ Cayman Islands.
- ____ United States of America is ____ fourth largest country in the world.
- Russia is ____ largest country in the world.
- My sister lives on ____ 5th floor.
- I have visited, ____ Appalachian Mountains, ____ Mediterranean Sea, ____ Mississippi river, and ____ Lake Como.