Sunday, July 28, 2013

Place names - the or zero article?

Whether to use the definite article the before place names or not can be a little confusing. Try these three quizzes first, and then read about some of the general principles involved.

Exercise 1 - If necessary, add The before the place name.

Continents, countries, regions and cities
Latin America Venezuela
Patagonia Buenos Aires
Senegal Gambia
Nigeria Central African Republic
Islands and groups of islands
Majorca Balearic Islands
Crete Aegean Archipelago
Mountains and mountain ranges
Mont Blanc Alps
Matterhorn K2
Lakes and groups of lakes
Lake Ontario Great Lakes
Lake Windermere Lake District
Rivers and canals
(River) Thames (River) Amazon
Panama Canal Hudson (River)
Seas and oceans
Mediterranean (Sea) Atlantic Ocean
Gulf of Mexico San Francisco Bay
Sahara Desert Gobi Desert
Points of the compass
Northern Spain North / South Pole
East / West (of England) Northernmost part

Europe and Britain

The or zero article?

Exercise 2 - If necessary, add The before the place name.

Europe European Union
Netherlands Holland
Zuyder Zee Amsterdam
Hague Rijksmuseum
Slovakia Czech Republic
Bohemia Prague
Venice St.Mark's Square
Grand Canal Vatican
Paris Eiffel Tower
Montmartre Champs-Élysées
Great Britain United Kingdom
British Isles Scotland
Yorkshire Isle of Wight
London City of London
Oxford University University of Oxford
Keble College, Oxford Cambridge
City of Cambridge Cambridge Road, London

Streets, Buildings etc

The or zero article?

Exercise 3 - If necessary, add The before the place name.

Oxford Street Picadilly Circus
Leicester Square Hyde Park
Portobello Road Mall
Whitehall Strand
Buckingham Palace Palace of Westminster
Black Swan (a pub) Ritz Hotel
Odeon Cinema Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Victoria and Albert Museum Tate Gallery
Canturbury Cathedral Westminster Abbey
Eton College (independent school) Woodlands Junior School

Some general principles

Update - I've now posted some tables with the main uses of articles with place names, which you can find here.
Here are some general priciples:
  • If a place name consists of a real name, especially just one word, it usually takes no article:
    Europe, France, Normandy, Paris, Montmartre
  • If a place name includes a unit of organisation (republic, kingdom, states etc), a geographical or other descriptive feature (islands, sea, river etc), it usually takes the:
    The United Kingdom, The Baltic Sea, The River Seine, The Kalahari Desert
  • This is also the case when this feature is only implied:
    The Phillipines (= The Phillipine Islands), The Himalayas (= the Himalaya Mountains)
  • But this is not the case when the name includes the singular word land:
    Scotland, New Zealand, Newfoundland, Poland
  • If a place name includes of, it takes the definite article:
    The Straits of Gibraltar, The Bay of Biscay, The Isle of Man, The Museum of Modern Art
  • Note that we can often name places two ways, one without of and without the article, and one with of (usually more formal):
    Poland / The Republic of Poland, Edinburgh University / The University of Edinburgh, Capri / The Isle of Capri
  • When the first word of a place name is an adjective (as with most seas), we usually use the:
    The Mediterranean (Sea), The Arabian Gulf (but Central Park)
  • When a place name starts with a possessive, it usually takes no article:
    St Paul's Cathedral, Sadler's Wells Theatre, Hudson's Bay
  • When a place name starts with the name of the place where it is situated, it doesn't usually take an article:
    Morecombe Bay, London Bridge,
  • Finally, note there are lots of exceptions, and that some place names, especially buildings, schools, etc are best learned individually.

Some exceptions to the general rules

  • The Netherlands - this name is descriptive; it means The Low Lands
  • The Gambia - takes its name from the Gambia River
  • (The) Yemen, (The) Sudan - the names of these countries are occasionally used with the. In older texts you might see Argentina referred to as The Argentine, but this practice has largely died out.
  • The Hague - from the Dutch Den Haag (= The Hedge)
  • The Matterhorn (= The Meadow Peak), The Jungfrau (= The Young Woman) - these names of mountains are descriptive in the original German
  • The Strand (a street in London) - called after a small river
  • The Mall (a road in London) - a mall (here) is like an esplanade, a long open space where people can walk


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Phricee said...

These exercises are great! I am using about 4-5 of your quizzes to help my classes study for their finals.I will highly recommend your blog as well in the future. I also run a blog called that helps English students. I focus mostly on discussion topics and speaking skills. Let me know what you think ifyou get a chance! Thanks again!

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