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Putting the proper article before a noun is really complex. To be frank, I'm still learning this! I don't remember the source, but I had read somewhere that even students of English Literature make mistakes in placing proper articles in their sentences.

Even more confusing is the usage of these articles while describing natural things. I am taught to put the article the for natural things (the sun, the moon, the earth etc.), as they are the only ones.

Now why does Harvard describes it as The Himalaya here whereas Britannica calls it Himalaya here? Smart Wiki calls it both here in its main article and about Ecology of The Himalaya here!

My question is:

Do we have to place the while describing the natural things like mountains and rivers? And if the answer is no, why? When I talk about Mount Everest, it's the Mount Everest, the only one. It's definite and so the is needed.

Does it have something to do with being 'plural' (as in the range of Himalayas so it's The Himalayas)? But then I watched The Nile on Discovery!

A request: Please point out mistakes in placing articles in this question as well. This'll be the bonus for me! :)

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    I think the distinction is that "The Himalayas" refers to the mountain range, while "Himalaya" refers to the region, in the same way that "The Appalachians" refers to the mountain range and Appalachia refers to the region. – Jim Nov 20 '13 at 6:21
  • Also mountain names prefixed with "Mount" don't take an article in the same way that "Dr. Smith" doesn't take an article- unless you are specifically try to disambiguate a "false" Dr Smith (or mountain) from the "real" Dr. Smith – Jim Nov 20 '13 at 6:24
  • @Jim I thought about it first and thus have already mentioned. If you say that the word 'Mount' does not take the article, can I write 'The Himalaya Mountain' then? Is it correct? If you are talking about the range, what about the program on Discovery - The Nile! Here, it's not mentioning anything but one river. The Ganges is also one river but then we have 'the' there! Also, I find The Sahara as the biggest desert on the earth at many places and here (edition.cnn.com/2013/10/18/travel/…). – Maulik V Nov 20 '13 at 6:44
  • I think you can say The Himalaya Mountains** but usually they are simply referred to as The Himalayas. River names usually always require the as do deserts. – Jim Nov 20 '13 at 7:49
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    The short answer is "no" and "because of convention - there is no good reason why". Mountains have no article, and rivers always use the article "the". A somewhat more complete answer is my answer to this question – Matt Nov 20 '13 at 11:12
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You are right that it gets a little confusing with things like mountains, rivers, etc.

I was going to type up some examples, but this site does it just fine. To summarize it (including only ones relevant to this question):

without "the"

  • names of countries in the singular; summits of mountains; continents; towns
  • single islands
  • parks; lakes

With "the"

  • names of countries in the plural; mountain ranges; regions
  • groups of islands
  • name with of-phrase (ex: The Statue of Liberty); oceans; seas; rivers

I wish I could give you an easy rule to follow with this... but I cant. Some things just work one way, and others a different way. Maybe an expert could explain why the distinction was made. I guess, eventually, you just develop an ear for it. Until then, you may have to just memorize the common examples, and try to use that to "guess" for the other ones.

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    Can you please add your edit directly to the question, rather than appending it in your answer. That is the norm for StackExchange. :) – Matt Nov 20 '13 at 14:11
  • @Matt I am still new here. I make lots of edits on SO, but I didn't know if it was appropriate to make changes like that here since the people are still learning. I will make the edit in the question. – Gray Nov 20 '13 at 14:13
  • If you're new, someone will review your edit before it becomes visible to everyone else, and that will allow someone else to review (and potentially improve) your edit :) – Matt Nov 20 '13 at 14:14
  • @Matt I actually have the Copy Editor badge on StackOverflow, so I get the general process - it is what drew me to ELL. But do you guys here on ELL.SE encourage grammar/English corrections to be made in the question? I assumed it was fine as long as it doesn't change the meaning. Is that accurate? I was going to wait a while before I got into editing so I could learn the culture here a little better. I only did that edit in the answer because the OP asked for improvements as part of their question. – Gray Nov 20 '13 at 14:18
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    There's an interesting question on meta that raises this exact same question. The consensus seems to be very much erring on the side of "correct mistakes when you see them". This is a site for learners, and whilst correcting pedantic little mistakes on other sites is annoying, here it is actively helpful :) – Matt Nov 20 '13 at 14:42
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The is mentioned for things that are unique.

A comical but perfect way of usage example follows.


person 1: "I was talking about Babu sir."

person2: "Which babu, man?"

person 1: "I was talking about the Babu, the only and only one, unique Babu of the world. Babu the genius in optoelectronics, the guru of all known and unknown optical phenomenon"


Here, usage suggests that this person named Babu whom the guys are talking about are unique in existence. Hence the preposition "The".

Consider this for example:


Person 1: Who are you talking about

Person 2: Some Babu

Person 1: It is just a Babu, it could be any Tom, dick or harry.


Guess this makes it clear

  • You probably misunderstood the question. I'm clear in using the articles the way you said. My question is different and it does not ask the general use of the articles. – Maulik V Nov 20 '13 at 10:12

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