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Some more about 'the'

The is used when there is only one of something: You are the tenth person I have spoken to today. (There is only one tenth person.) What is the tallest building in the world? (There is only one tallest building in the world.)


  • It is used before the adjective same: It’s the same colour. Your car is the same as mine. We got here at the same time.

  • The is used with these words as we consider there is only one of these in the context that we are talking about: The sun. The sea. The sky. The Internet. The moon. The world. The universe. The Milky Way, etc

  • The is not used for meals such as breakfast, dinner, etc. See Typical Errors in English (the book, available at good bookshops and online) for more information.

  • It is not used before a noun and a number in that order.  We do not say the room 35, the page 7, the question 8. We say room 35, page 7, question 8. However, if it is an ordinal number (first, second, third etc) and a noun, then we can say the second floor, the tenth page, the fifteenth question. The same with letters if they are used to list things in a sequence: To help us decide, we should consider option b. (NOT: the option B)

  • It may or may not be used with certain institutions such as school, prison, etc. For more details, see the book!

  • With other places such as the bank, the cinema, the post office, the floor, etc, we use the even though there may well be more than one of them. Usually both the listener and speaker will know what is being talked about as there is only one kind of place that deals with money, letters, shows films, etc. 

I’m going to the bank (my regular bank). Sit on the floor (in the room).

The Post Office is always busy (my local post office).

  • On rare occasions, the is used to indicate that, in the opinion of the speaker, the item concerned is the most important of its group/class, the number one, the best or most significant of its kind, with stress added to ‘the’ to indicate this importance: 

I support the team! (the team everybody supports, or is the best in the opinion of the speaker).

Do you have a copy of the book? (The book everyone is talking about, the best book, or in some cultures, the book can be a collection of religious writings such as the Bible or Koran, and is therefore the most important book in their society)

  • Compare: 

I’m going to the bank (my usual bank). Is there a bank near here? (I am looking for a bank, any bank, where I can do what I need to do such as change some money). 

Have you washed the car? (our car) Have you got a car? (There are many cars – have you got one of them?)

But: Have you been to the bank? (The bank we discussed earlier, either finding one to change some money or the regular one to do personal business)​

j) A QUICK CHECK (15 minutes)


Put in a/an/the or zero article in the following sentences.


1. Excuse me, is there ____ bank near here?

2. Are you going to ____ post office?

3. I don’t think I’ll walk to ____ shop. I think I’ll take _____ car.

4. I’ll see ______ headmaster at ______ school to find out if our child can go there in _____ next school year.

5. My brother is in ______ prison. He is in _____ cell 314, which is on _____ fifth floor of _____ prison.

6. I would like ______ breakfast. In fact, I would like ______ continental breakfast.

7. Look at _____ sky! Isn’t it blue?

8. You are wearing ____ blue coat and I’m wearing _____ blue coat. We are wearing ______ same coat.


Here are the answers below. If you are not sure, read through the notes above one more time.

1. Excuse me, is there bank near here? (I'm looking for a bank, any bank)

2. Are you going to the post office? (The post office we both know or is local, the post office that is an important institution)

3. I don’t think I’ll walk to the shop. I think I’ll take the car. (The shop that I am planning to go to or that we discussed. The car that belongs to us)

4. I’ll see the headmaster at the school to find out if our child can go there in the next school year. (There is usually only one headmaster, and they work at this particular school, and there is only one next school year)

5. My brother is in (Ø zero article) prison. He is in Ø cell 314, which is on the fifth floor of the prison. (My brother is a prisoner, in one particular cell which is numbered 314, there is only one fifth floor, and it is in the prison building) 

6. I would like Ø breakfast. In fact, I would like continental breakfast. (Breakfast is an institution and so does not require an article, but 'a/an' can be used before an adjective to describe a particular kind of breakfast)

7. Look at the sky! Isn’t it blue? (There is only one sky)

8. You are wearing blue coat and I’m wearing blue coat. We are wearing the same coat. (You and I are introducing the fact that we are wearing one of many kinds of blue coat, and we both know what kind of coat we are talking about)

You may want to stop and look at all the notes again at this point as there was a lot to think about..

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