Should I use the definite article before name of languages?

  • (the?) Persian language
  • (the?) German language
  • (the?) Arabic language
  • (the?) Russian language
  • (the?) English language

Some language name may also refer to other things, so you need language word after their name.


3 Answers 3


The article goes with language, so the following work as noun phrases:


the English language

The following doesn't usually work as a noun phrase referring to the English language. It would more likely be interpreted as referring to the English people:

the English

Take a look at the following example sentences:

1a. I speak English.

1b. I speak the English language.

1c. I speak the English.

2a. English is a beautiful thing.

2b. The English language is a beautiful thing.

2c. The English is a beautiful thing.

Examples 1c is wrong. Example 2c is wrong in most situations. Example 1b sounds strange; we usually only say "the English language" when speaking about the language in the abstract or as a whole. Saying "English" always works, though it doesn't always sound as nice:

3a. By some estimates, there are over a million words in the English language.
3b. By some estimates, there are over a million words in English.

Both examples are acceptable, but example 3a sounds better.

Of course, there are other situations where you'd use an article with bare English, such as in the phrase the English of Shakespeare, but you can do that with any proper noun (see this answer). And if you're using English language as a modifier, it doesn't need an article because it's not functioning as a noun. In the following example, English language is inserted into the noun phrase a Q&A site as a modifier:

4. Stack Exchange is an English language Q&A site.

The article an belongs to site, not to English, language, or Q&A.

* means I think this utterance is unacceptable.
? means I think this utterance is questionable, but not as bad as those marked with *.


As @FumbleFingers said, you don't normally use the and language when speaking of a language. For example, this is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article about Persian:

Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages.

Iranian language and Indo-European language identify the language family of Persian.

Similar description is given for Russian:

Russian is a Slavic language spoken primarily in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

The fact you are talking of a language is understood from the context. The fact Italian could mean the language or a person from Italy doesn't mean you need to say the Italian language when you speak of the language; that is not what English native speakers do, in the same way English native speakers don't normally say American person.

The following sentences are perfectly understood from English native speakers, without the need to replace Italian with the Italian language.

I know Italian enough to talk with Italians and be understood.

I can read Italian, but I don't speak it well.


The definite and indefinite articles are used in front of languages when they refer to a variety of that language:

The English spoken in Canada differs from that spoken in the U.S. only in pronunciation.

Or to its use in a particular situation or medium:

The English (used) in that article leaves much to be desired.

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