Friday, August 16, 2013

Zero article or the with place names - the basics

Some general principles and a few tables to help you with the use of zero article or the with place names.

Some general principles

  • If a place name consists of an actual name, especially just one word, it usually takes no article:

    Europe, France, Normandy, Paris, Montmartre

  • If a place name includes a unit of political organisation (republic, kingdom, states etc), it usually takes the:

    The United Kingdom, The Czech Republic, The United States

  • If a place name includes a geographical or other descriptive feature (islands, sea, river etc), it usually takes the:

    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 consists of 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 call 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 there are exceptions, eg. 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 that there are lots of exceptions, and that some place names, especially buildings, schools are best learned individually.
Continents, countries, regions, cities etc.
Zero articleThe
Geographical areas

Latin America
Central London
Outer Mongolia

The Arctic, The Balkans
The Middle East
The West Indies
The Lake District

Points of the compass

Northern England
West London
East Asia

The East of England
The South Pole
The West


Africa, Asia, Europe
N. America, S. America, Australia

(or) The Antarctic

Most countries, especially those with one word names


Countries ending in 'land'

New Zealand
French Polynesia

Names which include organisational elements - kingdom, republic etc

The United Kingdom
The Czech Republic
The Republic of the Congo

Groups of islands

The Phillipines
The Seychelles

A few others

The Netherlands (1)
The Gambia (2)
(The) Sudan

Regions, provinces, states, counties etc
Most regions etc

Patagonia, Normandy
Alberta, Queensland
Texas, California
Yorkshire, Essex

Some exceptions

The Algarve (3)
The (Scottish) Borders

Cities, towns
Most cities and towns

London, Paris, Berlin
Buenos Aires, Havana

A few exceptions

The Hague (4)
The City of London (5)

Geographical features - seas, rivers, mountains etc
Zero articleThe
Oceans, seas, rivers
All oceans, seas and rivers

The Atlantic (Ocean)
The Mediterranean (Sea)
The (River) Thames

Channels, straits, canals
Mostly take 'the'

The English Channel
The Straits of Magellan
The Panama Canal

Bays, gulfs and capes
Preceded or followed by a noun - most bays and almost all capes

Morecombe Bay
Exmouth Gulf
Cape Horn

With 'of' - almost all gulfs

The Bay of Biscay
The Gulf of Mexico
The Cape of Good Hope

With a national adjective

The Persian Gulf
The Arabian Gulf

Most single islands

Easter Island

sometimes there's a choice


With 'isle of'

the Isle of Wight
the Isle of Man

the Isle of Skye
the Isle of Oronsay

Groups of islands

The British Isles
The Bahamas
The Orkneys ***

Most single lakes

Lake Windermere
Loch Ness

Groups of lakes

The Great Lakes

Mountains and hills
Most single mountains

(Mount) Everest
Mont Blanc
Ben Nevis

A few exceptions

The Jungfrau (6)
the Matterhorn (7)

Mountain and hill ranges

The Alps
The Dolomites
The Rockies ***
The Pennines ***

All deserts

The Sahara (Desert)
The Gobi Desert

Simple names

Sherwood Forest
Kielder Forest

With 'of' and adjectives

The Forest of Dean
The New Forest

Streets, parks, buildings etc.
Zero articleThe
Streets etc
Most streets etc

Oxford Street
Park Avenue
Kensington High Street
Royal Crescent, Bath

A few exceptions

The Strand (in London) (8)
The Mall (in London) (9)
the High Street (10)

Roads etc
See note below

London Road

The London Road
The Great North Road
The North Circular (Road)
(The) Newbury Bypass

Most squares, circuses etc

Trafalgar Square
Picadilly Circus
Times Square
Tiananmen Square

Sometimes when attached to something

The Cathedral Square

Parks and gardens
Simple names

Hyde Park
Kensington Gardens


The Botanical Gardens

National Parks - no apparent rules

Lake District National Park

The Peak District National Park

Palaces, castles etc
Most palaces and castles

Buckingham Palace
Windsor Castle

Some exceptions

The White House
The Elysée Palace

A note on street names in Britain

As well as Street, Avenue and Road, you might see any of the following:

Gardens, Park
Terrace, Crescent, Circus, Place, Way, Lane
Bank, Hill

You might also see combinations:

Park Gardens, Circus Gardens, Bank Lane

The High Street

The main street in a British town or London Borough is often simply called the High Street, or is preceded by the place name (without 'the'), eg. Kensington High Street. For this reason, the main chains of shops and banks that are found in main streets throughout the country are known as high street shops and high street banks

(The) London Road

The main road leading out of a town often has the name of the town or city that it (eventually) leads to, especially London. In some places, this is called, for example, London Road,in others The London Road.
Zero articleThe
In generalWhich one isn't important or is obvious

She's gone to church
Are you going to school?
He's at university today
They're at home
I'm going to work

The idea of the institution

She wants to go to university
He leaves school next year

A specific place

The local parish church
The neighbourhood school
The new university
She's in the house
I'm going to the office

Cathedrals and churches
Most churches

Canturbury Cathedral
Westminster Abbey
Lavenham Parish Church

SchoolsMost schools

Colyton Grammar School
Winchester School
Woodlands Junior School

Some exceptions

The Rochester Grammar School
The Folkestone School for Girls

Universities (UK)
We can often refer to the same university in two different ways
With a simple name

Edinburgh University

more formally with 'of'

The University of Edinburgh

Universities (US)
Universities have unique names, some with 'the', some without

Washington University in St Louis
Michigan State University
Princetown University

The University of Washington
The University of Michigan
The University of Pennsylvania


Guy's Hospital

as a patient

He's in hospital

The Royal Infirmary

As a visitor or as a professional

She's gone to the hospital to visit her aunt
He works at the (or a) hospital

Places of entertainment
Zero articleThe
In general, as a place

We're going to the cinema
They went to the theatre.
We met at the opera

Theatres and opera houses
Names with possessives

Sadler's Wells (Theatre)
Her Majesty's (Theatre)

Simple place names

Glyndebourne (Theatre)

Most theatres etc

The Aldwych (Theatre)
The Colliseum (Theatre)
The Theatre Royal

Note - Some famous theatres are known both by their place names, and by their official name

Covent Garden

= The Royal Opera House
= The Royal Shakespeare Theatre


The Odeon (cinema)

Concert Halls - vary

Carnegie Hall

The Albert Hall

Museums and galleriesSome exceptions

Tate Modern

Most museums etc

The Tate Gallery
The Natural History Museum

Most hotels

The Ritz
The Waldorf-Astoria
(The) Gleneagles (Hotel)

Pubs and restaurants
- vary

Scott's Bar

The Black Swan
The Coach and Horses
The Café Royal

Zero articleThe
Most stations

Euston Station
Victoria Station

Most airports

Paris, Charles de Gaulle

A few exceptions
Most London bridges

London Bridge
Putney Bridge
Waterloo Bridge


(The) Golden Gate Bridge

Miscellaneous notes
Zero articleThe
Compare simple names with names with 'of', or with the type of organisation, which tend to be more official or formal
Simple names

Oxford University


All names with 'of'

The Republic of Poland
The University of Oxford
The Palace of Versailles
The Isle of Guernsey

The Russian Federation

A few names only exist in the 'of' version

or with 'republic' etc

The Isle of Man
The City of London

The Czech Republic
The Dominican Republic

1. The Netherlands - literally means 'the low lands'
2. The Gambia - called after the River Gambia
3. The Algarve - from Arabic, meaning 'the West'
4. The Hague - from Dutch, meaning 'The Hedge'
5. The City of London - the old part of London, now the financial centre
6. The Jungfrau - German for 'the young woman'
7. The Matterhorn - German for 'Meadow peak'
8. The Strand - a street in London called after a small river
9. The Mall - a street in London. A mall is a sort of esplanade for walking along
10. The High Street - if there is no town name, it usually takes the
Some groups of islands, mountains and hills are often referred to with a shorter plural version of their name

The Orkneys - The Orkney Islands
The Rockies - The Rocky Mountains
The Pennines - The Pennine Hills

Related posts


I got a lot of information from these sources:


  1. Why is the name of a person used with the definite article?

    the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.
    the Merry Riana show.

    Also, why is an adjective used with the definite article?

    In the name of Allah (God), the Compassionate, the Merciful.

  2. Because it's not just any stand or show, but the specific stand that's named after that person, or the specific show that stars, or is hosted by that person. Or sometimes it might be about a character with that name. But you could probably find exceptions.

    Incidentally if the name is that of the owner or original owner, then you might find the apostrophe s being used: Billy Smart's Circus, Lord's cricket ground. And sometimes we use an apostrophe s for things called after people as well: Nelson's Column, for example.

    As for adjectives, I think we are imagining a missing word:

    Allah, the Compassionate (One), the Merciful (One). i.e. the One who is compassionate.

    The poor (people), the unemployed (people), etc.

  3. Thank you. I'm wondering why the "one" is omitted? Or maybe If we want to describe the traits of Allah (God), we don't need it?

    Also, in the sentence below, why isn't the definite article used with "All-Forgiving and All-Merciful"? Since this use is like above. Does the writer treat them as a predicative?

    Indeed, Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

    Usually job titles such as director, chairman, etc can be dropped in a sentence. Yet in the above the noun isn't, but they are both adjectives.

  4. I would suggest that 'one' is missed out because it is unnecessary, everyone understands. As for the rest, I'd rather use non-religious examples, if you don't mind. Religious texts have their own ways of dealing with these things.

    So we can have 'Suleiman the Magnificent', or Suleiman is magnificent' . In the first (where there's no verb), 'the Magnificent' is a noun being used as an epithet, and the whole thing is a sort of description. In the second, as you say, it's simply an adjective describing a characteristiic (or trait) of the person.

    There are hundreds of examples of the first, William the Conqueror and Catherine the Great, to name but two. It's simply the traditional way we do it in English. Compare the French and English names for Richard I of England - Richard Cœur de Lion (no 'le'), Richard the Lionheart.

    Incidentally shops often take names like this: Greggs the bakers, Boots the chemists, and as so many people in Wales are called Jones, their occupation or other epithet was often added to their name: Jones the driver, Jones the teacher etc.

  5. Yes, use an non religious example. This would probably be the reason the writer says "the Compassionate" without "one" is that "God" is the preceding sentence, so it is understood by that. If just saying"the Compassionate" on its own, it could mean "the Compassionate (people)" just like the poor, the good. Am my understanding right? For example.

    I am Oz, the Powerful and the Great. And Dorothy replies, I am Dorothy, The Small and Meek.

    Incidentally, this to me is not the same as " Catherine the Great" or other epithets. It's not God the Compassionate or God the Merciful, but it's God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. There is a comma here probably making the difference. So, what do you think?

  6. OK, yes, the comma makes a difference. It's a bit like saying I am Dorothy, who is small and meek. But as I said, this is out of my territory, which is English, not the Koran.