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.
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?
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.
Most countries' names do not include "the" when they are used informally:
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 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!
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.)