Using articles 2 – Proper nouns

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Proper noun: A proper noun is an official name of a person, company, product model, city, country, nationality, language, and so forth. All proper nouns start with upper case letters.

When I ask, “Have you seen a man?” you can assume that I asking about any man. You will most likely answer, “Yes,” because you have seen a lot of men throughout the the day. If I ask, “Have you seen the man?” you may answer, “Yes,” if you know who I am talking about, or ask, “Which man?” if you are not sure. Whichever the case, the article “the” lets you know that I am talking about one particular man. (See general article rules).

If I ask “Have you seen Brad Pitt?” you will most likely answer, “Yes” or “No,” without asking further questions as to who I am talking about. This is the power of a proper noun; it is very specific. It lets your listener know exactly who or what you are talking about. Because of this; proper nouns do not need to be accompanied by articles.

When referring to proper nouns, you will either use “the” or no article at all, depending on the context.

In general: If the name is singular, and on it’s own, it should not have an article. If the name is plural, precede it with the article “the.”

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Names of people

Individuals

Use: no article + name

When referring to an individual, using his/her name, including title, you should not place an article before their name.

Examples

I will be having lunch with Joanne today. (first name)

Joanne Smith will be with you in a moment. (full name)

Please wait here for Mrs. Smith. (title + last name)

Are you waiting for Professor Smith? (title + last name)

I am afraid Doctor Smith is still busy. (title + last name)

Where is Smith? (last name)

 

Surname (last name) in plural form

Use: the + plural surname

When referring to a group of people, who belong to the same surname (family name, or last name) you need to use the article “the” before that. In this case, the surname is treated as a countable noun, and used in a plural form. In the same sense that I could say “I went to see the lions yesterday,” meaning “I went to see a specific group of lions;” I could also say “I visited the Smiths yesterday,” meaning “I visited a specific group / family of people.”

Examples

That car belongs to the Smiths. (the + plural surname)

The Pitts were such a beautiful family. (the + plural surname)

The Jacksons used to live in Belo Horizonte before moving here. (the + plural surname)

My son loves visiting the Jacksons. (the + plural surname)

 

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Cities, countries, continents and languages

These are general rules. Exceptions do exist.

 

Cities

Use: no article + city name

Names of cities do not get articles in front if them.

Examples:

Welcome to New York City. (no article + city name)

I’d love to visit Bogotá one day. (no article + city name)

I hear that Tokyo is exciting at night. (no article + city name)

 

Countries and continents: no article

Use: no article + name

In most cases, names of countries do not have articles in front of them.

Examples

I was born in South Africa. (no article + country name)

I am planning to go to Peru next year. (no article + country name)

Her husband is from India. (no article + country name)

I have a feeling Argentina is going to win this cup. (no article + country name)

Is it true that America has a new president? (no article + country name)

Countries: definite article

Use: the + country name

Use the article “the” if the name of the country contains a word like “Federation,” “Republic,” “States,” “Emirates,” “Union,”  “Coast,”  “Kingdom” or “Islands.”

We do so because these are nouns which we can use in regular conversations. However, they become special, and “definite” when they have names attached to them. A “republic” is no longer any odd republic when it has the name “South Africa” attached to it. It becomes very specific. It becomes the one and only, “Republic of South Africa.”

In this case, the actual name (phrase) acts as a modifier to the accompanying noun: Which federation? The Russian Federation. Which republic? The Republic of South Africa. Which states? The United States of America. Which kingdom? The United Kingdom.

 

Examples

He is a citizen of the United Sates of America. (the + country name)

The Republic of South Africa had its first democratic election in 1994. (the + country name)

She lives in the United Kingdom. (the + country name)

 

Languages

Use: no article + language

Languages do not have articles before them.

Examples:

I am learning Portuguese. (no article + language)

I would love to learn Arabic. (no article + language)

Linda can speak Japanese. (no article + language)

Most Congolese speak French as their first or second language. (no article + language)

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