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For many English learners, articles are one of the most difficult things to remember! Articles are confusing because it’s not always necessary to use an article in English.

This lesson is about when NOT to use the definite article the. Sometimes it’s easier to remember when NOT to use something instead of trying to memorize when to use something!

Here are some situations in which you don’t need to use the.

1. Things in general

You don’t need an article when you talk about things in general.

The does NOT = all.

Use plural count nouns:

Cats are great pets!
You’re not talking about one specific cat or one specific pet. You’re talking about all cats and all pets in general.

I love reading books.

Women love it when men send them flowers!

Houses are expensive in that neighbourhood.

Americans drive big cars.

 

Use non-count nouns:

I love listening to music.
You enjoy music in general, not any specific song or kind of music.

She’s afraid of heights, so we couldn’t go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

I love chocolate!

Have you eaten lunch yet?

She’s a vegetarian. She doesn’t eat meat.

NOTE: Count nouns (or countable nouns) are nouns that have a singular and plural form because you can count them, for example one cat, two cats, three catsNon-count (or uncountable nouns) are nouns that do not have a plural form. You cannot count non-count nouns. For example, you can’t say one music, two musics, three musics.

LEARN MORE: When to use “a” and “the” to talk about one of something

 

2. Names

Names of holidays, countries, companies, languages, etc. are all proper nouns. You don’t need to use an article with a proper noun.

a. Holidays

I got a beautiful new dress for Christmas.

I got my mom a necklace for Mother’s Day.

Everybody wears green on St. Patrick’s Day.

What are you doing on Valentine’s Day?

b. Geography
Articles are not used before countries, states, cities, towns, continents, single lakes, or single mountains.

I live in Canada.

Mt. Rosa is part of the Alps mountain range.
Mt. Rosa is one mountain. The Alps describe a group of mountains.

I’m going to Europe next month on vacation.

Lake Ontario and Lake Huron are 2 of the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes are a group of lakes on the border between Canada and the US.

Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan.

NOTE: There is an exception to every rule in English. The is part of the names of these countries:
the United States
the Czech Republic
the Philippines

c. Companies

I use Twitter and Facebook every day.

Bill Gates founded Microsoft.

Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the U.S.

McDonald’s has restaurants in 119 countries.

d. Universities

Her son graduated from Harvard.

She goes to Oxford.

He applied to CambridgeYale, and Stanford.

However, if the name of the university begins with University, then you must use the:

He has a master’s degree from the University of Toronto.

e. Languages

I am studying Russian.

I speak French.

In Brazil people speak Portuguese.

I teach people how to speak English.

 

3. Places, locations, streets

Streets, some locations, and some places do not need an article:

I left my book at home.

I have to go to work early tomorrow.

He was found guilty of murder and sent to jail for life.

My office is located on Main Street.

I usually go to church on Sundays.

Good night everyone! I’m going to bed.

Did you go to school today?

When I was in high school, everyone had to study French.

She’s studying business at university.

NOTE: You don’t need an article for subjects you study at school: math, geography, business, history, science.

Places where you DO need to use an article:

I need to go to the bank.

Let’s go to the movies.

My dad is in the hospital.

She works at the post office.

What time do you have to be at the airport?

Please drop me off at the bus stop.

She doesn’t like to go to the doctor or the dentist.

4. Sports

Sports and other physical activities do not need an article:

I love to go skiing in the winter.

I play football every day after school.

He loves watching hockey on TV.

She does yoga 3 times a week.

My daughter really enjoys dancing.

LEARN MORE:
Play, do, or go? Verbs used to talk about sports
Gerunds used for sports

 

5. Noun + number

He’s staying at the Hilton hotel in room 221.

The train to Paris leaves from platform 2.

My English class is in room 6 on the first floor.
First is an adjective in this sentence. It describes the floor.

 

6. Acronyms

An acronym is an abbreviation (a short form) of a name. It uses the first letter of each word to form a new word.

a. If the acronym is pronounced as a word, don’t use the.

NATO ambassadors met to discuss the situation.
NATO is the acronym used for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO is pronounced as one word, /’neɪtoʊ/.

UNESCO was formed in 1946.
UNESCO is the acronym used for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO is pronounced as one word, /ju’nɛskoʊ/.

You need to use the before acronyms when the letters are pronounced individually, not as a word.

The UN was created after the Second World War.
UN is used to represent the United Nations. UN is pronounced you-N /ju’ɛn/. It is not pronounced un /ʌn/, like in the word under.

Other acronyms that need the:

the EU
the US
the CIA
the FBI

b. The is not used before university acronyms:

John Smith got his MBA at UCLA.

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