I have been taught that it's grammatically proper to use the before countries like "Sudan and Yemen" but I was never given a reason (if there exists any, of course) when I asked why, except for "it is one of those ambiguous parts of English language that we – as non-native speakers – should just accept without trying to look for a reason". Now, I'd like to know if there is any answer to this "why" or I should keep on believing that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to questions like these.


4 Answers 4


The naming of countries is a matter of politics and convention rather than grammar. It is no longer appropriate to say the Ukraine, for example, as the government of that country deprecates it, and some may even be insulted by it.

Ultimately, each country can declare whatever its official and short names will be in English, although it may not always stick in common usage. Holland referring to the Netherlands persisted well into the second half of the 20th century, and Burma remains Burma, perhaps in part to spite the generals who insist on Myanmar.

The article is used where

  1. the name of the country includes a common noun, usually indicating the type of state; thus Russia but the Russian Federation, Britain but the UK and the United Kingdom, and the UAE and the United Arab Emirates. Naturally, the formal name of a country almost always entails the article: China but the People's Republic of China (or for stalwarts, the Republic of China), Jordan but the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Gabon but the Gabonese Republic.

    There are exceptions, as always: in Ivory Coast has more than half as many examples as in the Ivory Coast, and it is Vatican City, not the Vatican City— although the latter is also known as the Holy See.

  2. the name refers to a geographic or cultural region, a group of islands, or another feature or landmark: The Bahamas, The Gambia, the Comoros, the Netherlands, etc. As far as I can tell, The Gambia and The Bahamas seem to be the only countries which prefer the article always be used and always capitalized. (Among cities, we have The Hague and The Bronx, and a few others.)

The second case is where the has been dropped from many country names; the reference to the country as a region within something larger is taken by some to have colonialist overtones. Thus, what were the Lebanon [mountain], the Argentine [river], the Ukraine [=border region], and the Sudan [desert] a few decades ago are today Lebanon, Argentina, Ukraine, and Sudan properly.

Where a name is imported wholesale from another language, any article in the original language is ignored. Thus, El Salvador, not the Salvador, and likewise subnational entities like Le Havre or Los Angeles.

I have some additional questions on articles and proper nouns linked in the other thread.

  • 1
    +1 for a highly informative answer and the link, of course.
    – M.N
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 21:07
  • I wonder if Vatican City counts as an exception or is even worth mentioning given that it is named as a city, and that name perfectly fits the pattern of cities named as such: Atlantic City, Park City, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, or even Sin City or Paradise City for that matter have no "the." Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 5:58
  • 1
    @JeremyDouglass Nicknames don't obey rules— we have Motor City and Derby City; but it's strictly the Windy City and the Mile-High City. The Crescent City is a long way from Crescent City after all. If City (county, etc.) leads, however, the article is always employed: New York City but the City of New York, and in the Department of Redundancy Department, Kansas City is formally the City of Kansas City.
    – choster
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 16:30
  • Good point on nicknames -- and fun trivia about Kansas City. Strike "Sin City" and "Paradise City" from my examples. Still: for an official city name (not a nickname), Vatican City (not the Vatican City) is not an exception. It is following the same pattern as most (if not all?) other "_ City" cities 1 2 -- at least the ones I am familiar with in the USA. Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 16:36
  • 1
    Small point, but are you sure Argentine is etymologically related to river? I think it's actually silver.
    – TypeIA
    Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 17:39

Looking at the names of countries as listed by the British Foreign Office, the article 'The' is never used.

In the past, certain countries were officially named with an article. This practice seems to have died out entirely. The most recent country I can think of to lose the article in common usage is Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia.

There has been discussion of "The Ukraine" on ELU where it is said to be insulting.

The best rule to apply is, if the country calls itself The xxx, then use The.

  • 2
    "'The' is never used". Interesting find, although it's not a general principle elsewhere than on the list. For example, click "United Arab Emirates" in the list and you get to a page including the text, "We work closely with the UAE in many areas..." Also, it's "St Vincent and The Grenadines" even on the list, so apparently you can use "the" but not at the start of a list item. So, weird as it may seem, I wonder if it's more to do with alphabetization for the list than the FCO-approved way to refer to countries in general contexts. Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 13:57

I know two rules about using of "the" before country names:

1.Use the article the with countries that have a common noun within its name, e.g the USA = United States

2.Countries whose name is plural, e.g the Philippines

  • Many thanks but those rules do not answer my question.
    – M.N
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 3:29

No article is used with the names of most countries. "The" is used with country names with "of", or the names of island countries.


Use no article with a single-name country. Use "the" before countries with "of" in the name: The Repuplic of…, The United__of…, The Democratic __ of… , etc. And use "the" before island countries: the Philippines, the Maldives,


  • There is The Gambia, however.
    – choster
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 21:07
  • So, er, "The Japan", "The Jamaica", "The Cuba", "The Greenland", "The Cyprus", "The Iceland"? This is plain wrong. It's not islands but plurals (the Comoros, the Netherlands, the Philippines) and it's not "of" but common nouns describing the kind of country (state, republic, kingdom, commonwealth, principality, Grand Duchy, etc.) Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 11:07
  • It's the plural that gives some islands the "the". The Maldives (plural) vs, say, Cuba (singular). Commented Oct 10, 2015 at 14:15

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