The rules for articles
It is easier to start with those circumstances where we do not use articles. There are a number of specific instances when articles are not needed. Those circumstances are described below. Take note of the times when articles are not needed, but make sure you read about the exceptions.
When not to use articles
Names of countries / continents (Singular)
- Studies from Malaysia confirm the importance of filial respect in Asian families.
- Antarctica was once in the tropics.
Government statistics from the United States, the United Kingdom, and the People’s Republic of China indicate that those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale are getting poorer.
We have to use the because the name contains a common noun, such as state, republic or kingdom.
Names of languages
- If the population of India continues to grow, by the year 2020 Hindi will be the most prevalent first language in the world.
- In Canada, the official language is not Canadian: most people speak English and French.
One of the difficulties in learning the Hungarian language is that differences in tone change meaning.
The word ‘Hungarian’ in this sentence is acting as an adjective modifying the word ‘language’. The article is also modifying or determining ‘language'; there are many languages and so, the is used to be specific about what language we are talking about.
Names of meals
- What are you going to have for lunch?
- Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day.
The dinner that I attended the other evening was at the Hyatt.
It is a specific dinner that I attended; therefore, I need to specify which dinner, so I use the.
Names of nationalities
Yasuko is Japanese and Xiao Ping is Chinese.
- The most romantic people in the world are the French [people].
- The Swedish [people] are accustomed to cold, snowy winters.
Note: The sentence below is equally correct.
- Swedish people are accustomed to cold, snowy winters.
When we mean French people, we use the because we are modifying the word ‘people’. This is similar to number 2 above. We can, however, omit the article, if we choose.
Note: If we choose not to include ‘people’, we must use the.
- After class, Jonathon, Brittany, and Khalid met in the library to work on their group project.
- Jonathon Smith participated in the first trans-Atlantic crossing by rowboat.
- The Smiths [family] came to the party.
- The Smith family came to the party.
Because we mean the family called Smith, we need to recognise that the word being modified is ‘family’, not ‘Smith'; this requires an article.
Names of individual mountains, lakes, and islands (But not oceans or seas)
I have been to Tahiti and to Lake Superior, but I have never been to Mount Everest.
The Lake Superior ice can be up to four metres thick during the winter.
- As above, the article is connected to the common noun ‘ice’.
- We use the when referring to the very large bodies of water on the Earth – the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean ‘and the seas as well’ the Red Sea, the Caribbean Sea.
Names of states, towns, cities, streets, stations & airports
- Perth is marginally larger than Adelaide and is located in Western Australia.
- One of the most famous airports in the world is Narita Airport, which is in Tokyo. Perhaps the most famous train station, however, is Grand Central Station in New York.
- The Boulevard is the name of a street in the suburb of Cambridge.
- The Northern Territories and the Australian National Capital Region are not states.
- Sometimes names include the word the.
- As with number 1 above, when we specify areas using such words as territory, region, zone or area, we have to use the.
(Professions include engineering, law, medicine, teaching, dentistry, construction, art, design, architecture, dietetics, nursing)
- Engineering is a profession that requires advanced technical skills.
- Law requires an analytical mind and an ability to think laterally.
- For three generations, every person in my family has been a medical doctor.
- The biologists at our university focus on human biology rather than on general mammalian biology.
- We do dentistry or nursing (professions). We are dentists (people who do dentistry) or nurses (people who do nursing).
Names of shops
Three famous department stores around the world are Tokyu, Macy’s and Harrods.
I need to go to the / a stationery store (not a name) to buy some more printer cartridges.
Unless the shop has the in its name, you do not need an article. However, if you are referring to any shop, you need an article when using the singular form of the noun and sometimes in the plural.
Years, months, and days of the week
- 1972 was a critical year in the development of Sino-American relations.
- There are more people born in August in North America than in any other month.
- The due date for my major paper is Friday, October 10.
- It often rains in Perth in the winter.
- It often rains in Perth in winter.
- Seasons: The article is optional; however, using it gives a slight shift in meaning.
- Even when the name of the season is being used as an adjective, the article is still optional.
- The spring flowers in Western Australia can be viewed anytime between September and November.Using the here creates a sense of emphasis in contrast to the spring flowers in other Australian states.
- Spring flowers in Western Australia can be viewed anytime between September and November.Omitting the does not create any sense of consideration of spring flowers in other Australian states.
Names of sports
- While hockey is played on a field in Australia, it is played on ice in Canada.
- Ping pong is not the same as table tennis.
Names of academic subjects
- Surfing is now an academic subject in some Australian universities.
- One of the hardest units I had to take in my undergraduate course was biochemistry.
The exercise on this page provides an article review.
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