Andrew IELTS/FCE/CAE
Professional Teacher
Use of articles with countries in English A student of mine asked me about this point - when should we use articles with countries? So I confidently told him that we don't use the article with countries whose names are simply one word. Then an exception that I cannot explain occurred to me - I am 99.9% certain that, when we need to mention the country, we always say *the* Ukraine. I am going to a conference in the *the* Ukraine *not* I am going to a conference in Ukraine. Can anyone explain why? Presumably it is just one of those things? Now that I think about it, rules for regions seem enormously inconsistent. Consider: 1) I am going to stay in *the* Dordogne 2) Next year, I am going to stay in a castle in Provence. 3) I am going to go to Lower Saxony. 4) We are going to go to the Pas De Calais. 5) We like to go to Bavaria. 6) We will win the competition in the Auvergne.We also say "The Sudan," though I think this is the official name of the country itself?
Dec 3, 2016 11:03 AM
Answers · 14
It seems wildly inconsistent because it is wildly inconsistent and the only way to know which to use is to ask or to check. If they had to pick a default, I'd default to no article if it's just a name, to use an article if it's an ordinary noun with an identifying adjective. You'll get "the Bahamas," "the Gambia," and "Cook Islands" wrong - but it might work a lot of the time.
December 4, 2016
Hi Andrew, your example of (the?) Ukraine is in interesting one, and the current convention is to avoid "the". For most other cases, two-word (or more) countries tend to be descriptive: the United Kingdom (not just any kingdom), the Czech Republic (as opposed to the other republics - I don't think many people know we can say "Czechia", by the way) and so on. Geographical areas sometimes remove the noun and just use the adjective. For example, "the Alps" = the Alpine mountains, and "the Philippines" actually means the Philippine islands, ie. the islands of King Philip. Dordogne, Pas de Calais and Auvergne all suggest "the ____ region". These are just general guides. Sometimes we keep an article because it translates literally, eg. The Hague = Den Haag. Perhaps it's simplest to just learn each one as you go.
December 3, 2016
This might also explain why they tend to omit the article before nouns such as 'possibility,' an error which I encountered this morning. Clearly a mere 'possibility,' is anything other than concrete.
December 3, 2016
Thank you for taking the time to clear that up, Peachey. This is the first time I've heard that explanation. It makes perfect sense.
December 3, 2016
I can field this one. :) When Russians learn English, they are taught that you use "the" to mean something "concrete" (this is the literal translation of the word they use). So they assume that place names are "concrete" because they are specific and definite, and ignore any rules about given names. I've lost count of the times I've heard "the London".
December 3, 2016
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Andrew IELTS/FCE/CAE
Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, German, Italian, Japanese (Okinawan), Portuguese, Russian
Learning Language
Portuguese