Home > Grammar, Oral English, Pronunciation > “The” and place names

“The” and place names

In my previous article, I discussed the general rules for the use of articles (e.g. – “a/an” and “the”). In this article, I give more specific rules for the use of “the” and have practice exercises for the application of these rules. In English, the definite article, ‘the’, is used before certain types of place names. Plural countries, rivers, oceans, mountain chains (but NOT individual mountains) and seas all take ‘the’. It may be easier to remember this fact if you make a mnemonic name such as ‘PROMS’.

Plural countries; i.e.- the United States, the Philippines, the Netherlands …
Rivers; i.e. – the Nile River, the Amazon River …
Oceans; i.e. – the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean …
Mountain chains; i.e. – the Himalayas, the Alps, the Rocky Mountains …
Seas; i.e. – the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the South China Sea …

In addition, there are some other geographic names that also take ‘the’: straits, deserts, and towers are some (but not all) of the most widely-used other place names that take ‘the’. It may help you to remember another mnemonic name: DeToSt.

Deserts; i.e. – the Sahara Desert, the Mojave Desert …
Towers; i.e. – the CN Tower, the Eiffel Tower …
Straits; i.e. – the Strait of Gibraltar, the Bering Strait…

Pronunciation tip
People normally pronounce ‘the’ with a short vowel, /ə/, not a long vowel, /i:/. Nevertheless, people sometimes, but not usually pronounce the long vowel before vowels; i.e. – the /ði:/
Atlantic Ocean.

Spelling tip
Use capital letters for the first letter of
all words in geographic names, except for ‘the’, because those words are part of the name. Remember all names have the first letter capitalized of their words capitalized.
i.e. – the Red Sea  the Red sea 

Names of other geographic places such as lakes, singular countries, streets, provinces and states of countries, bays … do not take ‘the’.
i.e. – Lake Ontario  the Lake Ontario 
Canada  the Canada 
Yonge Street  the Yonge Street 
Ontario  the Ontario 
California  the California 
Hudson Bay  the Hudson Bay 

It may be easier to remember these facts by only memorizing which places take ‘the’ and remembering that other place names DON’T take ‘the’.

To practice these rules, do the exercises below and then check your answers.

As appropriate, write ‘the’ in the blank below or don’t write anything in the blank:

1. The Nile River flows through Egypt.

2. _______ Cuba is located in _______ Caribbean Sea.

3. _______ Eiffel Tower is a famous tourist attraction in _________ Paris.

4. ______ Tagalog is the official language of _________ Philippines.

5. _______ Alps are located in _________ Switzerland.

6. ________ Black Sea borders ________ Russia, _______ Turkey, __________ Bulgaria,

________ Romania and __________ Ukraine.

7. __________ Dutch is the official language of _________ Netherlands.

8. ___________ Amazon River is located in ____________ South America, in the country of

_______ Brazil.

9. Mt. Everest is located in ____________ Himalayas, which border ___________ China and ________ India.

10. ________ Canada is bordered by three oceans – _________ Arctic, ___________ Atlantic

and __________ Pacific.

11. _________ CN Tower, the world’s tallest free-standing structure, is located in _________ Toronto.

12. ___________ Sahara is the world’s largest desert.

13. Because it’s located on ________ Lake Ontario, summers in _________ Toronto are often somewhat humid.

14. _____Jasper and _______ Banff are popular Alberta tourist towns in __________ Rockies.

15. ________ English is the official language of _________ Bahamas.

16. ________ Spanish is the most widely spoken 2nd language in _________ United States.

17. ________ Strait of Gibraltar is located at the entrance to _________ Mediterranean Sea

between _________ Morocco and _________ Spain.

18. _________ Broadway is a famous street in _________ New York City.

19. _________ Yangtze River is the longest river in ___________ China.

20. ___________ Rhine River flows through ___________ Germany.

2. ____ , the
3. The, ____
4. ____ , the
5. The, ____
6. The, ____, ____, ____, ____, ____
7. ____, the
8. The, ____, ____
9. the, ____, ____
10. ____, the, the, the
11. The, ____
12. The
13. ____, ____
14. ____, ____, the
15. ____, the
16. ____, the
17. The, the, ____, ____
18. ____, ____
19. The, ____
20. The, ____

  1. Anonymous
    July 28, 2011 at 4:22 am

    It is very useful . Thanks !

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