The toughest word in English?
The correct use of articles is probably the most difficult concept to master for ESL students. It sometimes seems that as soon as I explain a “rule”, there is an immediate example on when the rule does not apply!
So, keeping in mind that there are many exceptions, this is an easy rule to remember – you do not use “the” with a proper noun.
Correct: Tomoko and I went shopping at Ala Moana Center.
NOT: The Tomoko and I went shopping at the Ala Moana Center.
Correct: I am going to visit Maui next summer.
NOT: I am going to visit the Maui next summer.
But, of course, here is an exception: Place-names: We usually use “the” with these kinds of place-names:
• seas (the Pacific)
• mountain groups (the Himalayas)
• island groups (the Hawaiian Islands)
• rivers (the Sumida River)
• deserts (the Sahara)
• hotels (the Shinjuku Hilton)
• cinemas and theatres (the Odeon, the Playhouse)
• museums and art galleries (the Bishop Museum)
And, also when the proper noun sounds like an adjective:
Correct: I buy papayas from the Big Island.
NOT: I buy papayas from Big Island.
The only way to master articles is to listen and practice. My mom was an English teacher. She always told me, forget the rules. Listen… and if it sounds funny, it’s probably wrong. So, listen to English on TV or the radio. Read in English! You will begin to notice the patterns and you, too, will be able to tell when it sounds “funny”!