Rules for Writing Place Names with “The”
  • 3-minute read
  • 26th July 2016

Rules for Writing Place Names with “The”

We live in the United States of America. Other countries go without a “the” – otherwise known as the definite article – before their names. Why is this? And what is it that makes America so much better than every other country?

Even our dogs are patriotic. [Photo: Randy Robertson/wikimedia]
Even our dogs are patriotic. [Photo: Randy Robertson/wikimedia]
Well, we’re proofreaders, meaning we’re not qualified to comment on the global status of particular countries. But we know plenty about language, so we can answer that first question.

In fact, we’ll dedicate this entire blog post to explaining when (and when not) to add “the” before a place name. Read on to find out more!

Countries and Continents

The United States of America is not the only place that uses “the” in its name. There’s also “the United Kingdom,” “the Seychelles” and many others.

Essentially, we use “the” for countries that encompass a group of places. So “the United States of America” is a group of states and “the Seychelles” is a group of islands. Most countries don’t require this article, since they’re considered a single place.

The other situation when “the” is required is when a country’s name includes the word “republic,” like “the People’s Republic of China.” Other examples include:

Definite Article

No Article Required

The United Kingdom

England

The Democratic Republic of Congo

Senegal

The Netherlands

Belgium

The Czech Republic

Estonia

It’s worth noting that some regions used to be described with “the” (e.g., “the Ukraine” or “the Argentine”), but that it’s incorrect to add “the” when describing the modern countries associated with these areas (e.g., Ukraine and Argentina).

Since all continents, like “Europe” or “North America,” are singular, none require the definite article. We do, however, sometimes use “the” for the regions to which continents belong, so we might refer “the Antarctic” when discussing Antarctica.

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Also known as "that place with the penguins."
Also known as “that place with the penguins.”

States, Cities and Regions

States (e.g., Utah, Tennessee, Alabama) and cities (e.g., Michigan, Paris, Beijing) are almost always treated as single places. As such, they do not usually require the definite article.

When discussing specific regions, on the other hand, it’s fairly common to add “the” before the place name. For instance, we might say “the Midwest of America” or “the South of France.”

Lakes and Mountains

Single lakes and mountains do not generally require the definite article (e.g., Lake Erie, Mount Hayes). It’s important to check, however, since there are exceptions, such as “the Matterhorn.”

Furthermore, we do use “the” when describing a group of lakes (“the Great Lakes”) or a mountain range (“the Rockies”). It’s also conventional to use “the” when naming oceans (“the Atlantic”) and rivers (“the Mississippi”).

Buildings, Streets and Monuments

There are no special rules for whether buildings and place names require the definite article, so the best thing to do if you’re unsure is check. Examples include:

Type of Place

Definite Article

No Article Required

Building

The Empire State Building

Buckingham Palace

Street

The Mall, London

Broadway, New York

Monument

The Statue of Liberty

Christ the Redeemer

THE Empire State Building.

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