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'The' with place names: rules and exceptions
Bush House (home of the BBC World Service) - no article

Michael, studying English in the US, writes:

'Why don't we put the definite article the before Britain in the text below:

Just like the total eclipse of the sun in 1999, the total eclipse of the moon on 16 May 2003 could not be seen in most parts of Britain because of cloud cover.'

Roger Woodham replies:
  continents, countries, states, counties, provinces: zero article

We normally use no article when referring to these larger and smaller areas:

    South-East Asia, North America, West Africa, Central Europe
    America, Great Britain, New Zealand, Japan, Russia, China
    Florida, Cornwall, Brittany, Bavaria, Guangdong Province

However, when the name of a country indicates multiple areas or when the word republic is used as part of the name, the definite article is required:

    The US (The United States), The UK (The United Kingdom)
    The Philippines, The Netherlands, The Czech Republic,
    The Baltic States, The West Indies, The People's Republic of China

Note that when discussing politics, we speak of the government of the UK, but when discussing nature we are more likely to say the fauna and flora of the British Isles.

When discussing specific areas, the definite article is normally required:

    The South of France, the West Coast of Ireland
    the Eastern Seaboard of America

  • The South of France attracts many visitors each year for both the Monaco Grand Prix and the Cannes Film Festival.

lakes: zero article; seas and rivers: the

Note also that when we are referring to seas and rivers, the definite article is required, but when we refer to inland waters or lakes, it is omitted:

  • Lake Windermere is in the Lake District.
  • Loch Lomond is in the Highlands of Scotland.
  • The Danube flows into the Black Sea.

individual mountains: zero article; mountain groups: the

  • Everest and K2 are the two highest mountains in the world, both situated in the Himalayas.
  • The highest mountain in Britain is Ben Nevis, which you can find in the Grampians in the Scottish Highlands.
 
   

buildings: the or zero article

When it comes to buildings, it is more difficult to see a pattern emerging. It is more a case of Learn It. Compare the following:

  • The Eiffel Tower and the Tower of London are two landmarks in the capital cities of France and Britain.
  • If you come to London, be sure to visit Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
  • - Where's Charing Cross station?
    - It's off Trafalgar Square, between the Post Office and Coutts Bank in the Strand.

But note that the names of most hotels and pubs, many theatres and cinemas and most museums and art galleries need to be used with the definite article:

  • - Shall we eat at the Goose?
    - No, I'm a vegetarian. Let's eat at the Slug and Lettuce.
  • The Filmworks in Greenwich is a huge cinema complex next to the Holiday Inn on the Greenwich peninsula.
  • The National Gallery is on the northern side of Trafalgar Square, opposite Nelson's Column. It's about a fifteen-minute walk from The British Museum.
 
   

street names: no article

Usually no article, but note the exceptions in the examples below:

  • The Strand, Whitehall and the Mall are three of the most famous streets in the history of London.

  • When you come to the main road, turn right and you'll find the coffee shop in the High Street.
 
   

If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

     
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