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Use the if the country’s name includes a common noun. I know that we have to use "the" in front of some countries and USA is one of them. But it sounds odd to say "I like the USA". Please tell me which one is correct.

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    It's part of the country's name, so use it. The United Kingdom, the Netherlands follow the same rule. "I like USA" just sounds plain wrong to a native. Alternatively, "I like America" or "I like England" is just fine. – Tetsujin May 18 '15 at 8:13
  • Sounds like a good Answer. – Brian Hitchcock May 18 '15 at 8:44
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    @Gray Maybe that's USA Television English? American television English tends to break grammatical rules. Newscasters have been using the noun form of some place names as adjectives sometimes too: "2,000 Tragically Maimed in Seattle Oil Train Disaster". And I think sportscasters covering the Olympics probably would say "Another point for USA!". To me, "USA is number one!" is something I am sure I've heard, but I think it's a slang form, which goes well with the meaninglessness of its information content. In a more literate publication, I don't think one would find, "Illiteracy is rife in USA." – Dronz May 18 '15 at 16:27
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    @Gray Your example "I hope (team) USA wins the match." seems telling to me, in that "I hope the USA wins the match" says something different. It'd be like saying "I hope the entire country The United States of America wins the match", when you really mean the team. Similarly, perhaps "I like USA" and "USA is number one" is more talking about "USA" as a symbol, and not literally the country... maybe? When I hear, "I like USA" I imagine someone saying they think the USA team will win a game, but "I like the USA" sounds like a foreign visitor talking about his impression of visiting the country. – Dronz May 18 '15 at 17:17
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    @Gray "Team USA" and "USA-themed gifts" are wonderful examples of why people shouldn't be tempted to articulate or memorize "rules" for making articles. These examples nicely illustrate how the choice of article (or lack of article) depends on precedents and analogies with other words and phrases, which sometimes conflict. Thanks! – Ben Kovitz May 18 '15 at 21:26
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You must say:

I like the USA.

which is short for:

I like the United States of America.

There is no rule here. The reason that "the" is required is because it's part of the name of the country. Most countries do not have a "the" in their name (in English). For example, these are all correct:

I like Canada.

I like the United Kingdom.

I like India.

I like Zimbabwe.

I like the United Arab Emirates.

These are all incorrect:

I like the Canada.

I like United Kingdom.

I like the India.

I like the Zimbabwe.

I like United Arab Emirates.

You simply have to learn the name of each country, one at a time. As you learn each country's name, learn whether its name includes an article.

Consider it a blessing that there is no rule for these proper nouns, because it trains you in the right way to understand articles for common nouns in English: there is no rule.

Some people try to identify many rules for when you need a definite article, when you need an indefinite article, and when you should omit the article. Teachers have probably tried to teach you complex rules for making that decision. Really, though, there are just many common patterns for when you need an article and what it means. If, when learning each new noun, you notice which article precedes it or if it occurs without an article, you'll learn that noun correctly, and you'll gradually absorb the patterns. If you try to learn rules, they'll just mislead and confuse you forever.

For example, you have probably already noticed that most countries that are a "United" something include a "the". That's not a rule, but it's a pattern that you notice as you learn each country's name one at a time. The patterns you pick up from learning the names of countries carry over to common nouns, and vice versa. Some of the other answers posted here struggle with trying to articulate abstract rules to memorize, which are mostly right, but then they have to start complicating the rules to handle the odd cases. They don't even dare deal with names of all the world's regions, neighborhoods,* or all common nouns. If you don't memorize rules, then you don't expect rules to be followed, and so you aren't frustrated when they aren't. Instead, you pick up patterns one example at a time, just like a native, and you develop a feeling for how different analogies between similar words and phrases are used, how they conflict, how people resolve conflicts between them, etc. If you go through a map of the world and memorize the country names, one by one, without memorizing "rules", you'll be well on your way to genuinely understanding English articles.


*For example, some neighborhoods in San Francisco are: Nob Hill, the Richmond, Potrero Hill, the Mission District, Mission Bay, Hayes Valley, the Castro, the Haight District, South of Market, Dogpatch. Do you notice a pattern here? Sure, but it would be crazy to think English has a "rule" that neighborhoods named for a hill can't have an article, neighborhoods named after a district must have an article, etc. In fact, San Franciscans can't agree on whether "the" Richmond should or shouldn't have an article. And did I mention freeways?

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    I would add that "the" in "The United States of America" and "The United Arab Emirates" relate specifically to "States" and "Emirates", which are nouns and you would always say "the states" or "the emirates" or "the kingdom"... – noncom May 18 '15 at 15:58
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    I think that your point about "patterns" versus "rules" is an important one. – ColleenV parted ways May 18 '15 at 17:07
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    Your examples are all correct, but I rather disagree with your assertion that there is no rule. The rule is that 'states,' 'kingdom,' and 'emirates' are all common nouns. Regardless of whether they're part of a name or not, if you're referring to a specific state, multiple specific states, a specific kingdom, or a specific emirate, the article is required. Conversely, if you're talking about just any state or kingdom, the article is not needed. – reirab May 18 '15 at 17:59
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    Isn't your distinction about rules and patterns a fake one? After all, all so called 'rules' are just patterns that have been observed. Language came before the linguists and the large majority of languages weren't defined by linguists (though they were definitely influenced by them and some rules have actually been created and enforced by single individuals in some languages). – David Mulder May 18 '15 at 18:23
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    I think that making the distinction is helpful for learners, even if the semantics don't have a large difference. If someone tells me something is a rule, I expect that exceptions will be rare. A rule is "i before e except after c". If someone tells me something is a pattern, I have less expectation that everything will match it. What rule tells us that it is no longer "The Ukraine" even though it used to be correct ? There are some patterns in place names, but there are too many exceptions for me to consider them rules. @DavidMulder – ColleenV parted ways May 18 '15 at 19:04
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If the name of the country contains an English noun (the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, etc) then use the article, otherwise don't.

The abbreviation doesn't remove the noun; it merely provides a short way of referring to it.

P.S. And it doesn't have to be an English noun; it can be a noun in another language which English speakers (at some point) understood to be a noun: the Dry Tortugas.

P.P.S. Sometimes the word's noun status can only be deduced from a plural: The Bahamas.

P.P.P.S. We won't find the article if the first part of the name is (or is taken to be) a determiner or possessive determiner. England, Poland, and I believe Denmark and Ireland and Iceland and Greenland and Newfoundland and Scotland as well, fall into this category.

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    England, Ireland, Poland, Iceland, Denmark, Ivory Coast, ... – Sebastian Negraszus May 18 '15 at 13:15
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    Well, we do say "the Ivory Coast". But the others do require a P.P.P.S :) – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 18 '15 at 13:28
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    Ukraine used to be referred to as "the Ukraine", although that has fallen out of favor nowadays. I think Gambia is also often referred to as "the Gambia". – Peter Olson May 18 '15 at 15:02
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Most countries' names do not include "the" when they are used informally:

Australia

England

Great Britain

America

China

South Africa

When they do there are some hints you can use:

The Commonwealth of Australia

The United States (of America)

The United Kingdom (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

The United Arab Emirates

The Netherlands

The Seychelles

The Canary Islands

The People's Republic of China

The Czech Republic

The Republic of South Africa

(The) Ivory Coast (offical English name Côte d'Ivoire)

The Azure Coast (not a country but an area of France - Côte d'Azur)

  • Often a country that sounds like a plural will have "the" in front of it.
  • Most countries with "United" in the name will be "The United ..." because "united" suggests being made up of parts, therefore plural.
  • If the name is "[adjective] [noun]" it uses "the" because there are usually lots of different [noun]s to choose from, e.g. there are many coasts and many republics. However, there is only one Britain which is why it is not "The Great Britain". The Vatican is hard to say why. It could be because the official name is "Vatican City State", so it just sounds better as "The Vatican City State", which gets shortened to "The Vatican".

As you can see from the examples there is often a difference between the official and informal name of a country.

Usually, it just uses "the" because it sounds better that way. As an English learner this is not helpful for you though! Like everything else, listen to how native speakers say it and read how it is written. You will get it through practice!

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    Addendum: It's not called "Great Britain" because it's greater than some other Britain; it's so called because it was extended by the addition of Scotland. It's like "Greater Boston". – Micah Walter May 18 '15 at 16:51
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    I'm curious why you highlighted the noun in every case except the ones with the adjective "United," in which cases you highlighted that instead? Wouldn't it make more sense to highlight 'states,' 'kingdom,' and 'emirates' (all of which are nouns that would need an article regardless of whether they're part of a name?) – reirab May 18 '15 at 17:48
  • Why is the s in States highlighted? It can only be States as it refers to the now 50 States (originally 13) not a country State. – AbraCadaver May 18 '15 at 19:20
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    @JohnPeyton That's incorrect. "Great Britain" wasn't included in the country name until the country included the whole of Great Britain, but the term Great Britain (Megale Britannia) was used by Ptolemy in 148AD. Little Britain was Ireland then, but has also been used to refer to Brittany in north-west France. – Mike Scott May 18 '15 at 20:24
  • Following the plural note, it's worth adding that "The" is also used to distinguish between [action] [subject]'s, [action] [plural noun] and [action] [verb]. Eg, "I'm going to Sally's" (I'm going to the home of Sally). [action] [subject]. "I'm going to the Sally's" (wrong, because the is essentially already inferred - this is like saying I'm going to the home of the Sally). "I'm going to States" (To most "State" is not a subject, so it ends up being interpreted as [action] [verb] which sounds wrong). "I'm going to ride" ([action] [verb]). "I'm going to the ride" ([action] [noun]) – Luke Briggs May 19 '15 at 2:16
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I can't claim that there is a hard and fast rule about the use of articles with the names of countries, but there is something that can help (let's call it a trick or loose guidelines):

  • Most countries don't have articles in front of them (this is also called the zero article) except:
    • Unions and associations (where the word signifying this appears in the name - compare: the USA but () America
    • The countries whose name sounds like plural (don't crucify me for this, I've said it's a usage trick not a rule and I haven't mixed it up with referring to the people of a country): The Netherlands, The Bahamas, The Philippines, The Marshall Islands... Speaking of which - groups of islands usually require the definite article as well.
    • There are some that you just have to memorise: The Agrentine but () Argentina, (the) Yemen, (the) Sudan, the Vatican...

I've taken the examples from Wikipedia and LEG by Alexander.

The best way to learn articles is exposure to language and practice. So, I would recommend reading some articles about the countries (the one's that need the definite article, since most don't) and to try and write some sentences that would include both countries with articles and those without.

(A list of countries which includes articles where they are needed would be useful, but I haven't been able to find such a list. Wikipedia - gives the article for the Bahamas, but not for the UK, the UN's list doesn't include articles at all, fact monster - also no articles, websites of the governments of the UK, the USA and Australia also didn't help. You can use most of these websites to click on an individual country and see its name used in a sentence where you can find whether there is an article.)

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    The Argentine are the people of Argentina, not a country. Wikipedia uses Yemen and Sudan without "the" although I have heard them used with "the". The Vatican is officially Vatican City State and is a somewhat unusual country/independent state. – CJ Dennis May 18 '15 at 12:29
  • @CJDennis I don't know about the Argentine (could it be both? I took the example from LEG but some things are simplified there for English language learners). From Wikipedia: "The attention of NGOs shifted shortly after the war broke out in the western part of the Sudan known as Darfur." (But you wouldn't say the western part of the Finland). I think "the" is optional for some states such as Sudan and Yemen. The Vatican is also called "The Holy See" in religious context, and it is an unusual state, but the name is in use so one should know whether to put an article in front of it. – Lucky May 18 '15 at 12:36
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    I usually hear "the Sudan" when referring to the area and "Sudan" when referring to the country. I've never heard "The Argentine" except in reference to the people of Argentina. Edit: Wiki seems to agree with me on The Sudan vs. Sudan. As far as Yemen, I literally don't think I've ever heard "The Yemen" prior to reading this post. – reirab May 18 '15 at 17:51
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The rule is to use the article "the" when the name of a place is a title.

Compare these two

"The United Kingdom" vs "Great Britain"

and

"The Federal Republic of Germany" vs "Germany"

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    Actually, that's not the only rule, and I'm not sure I would classify "United" or "Federal Republic" as a title. My understanding is the reason the article is used is because the name is derived from a common noun. Geographical names and definite articles can be complicated - for example, "The Philippines" doesn't fit your rule. I found Wikipedia to be helpful: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_articles#Definite_article – ColleenV parted ways May 18 '15 at 16:58

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