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What's all THE fuss about?

So, why do we say 'The UK' and 'The USA', but not 'The Germany'?




I’ve been posting weekly top tips on dealing with countries around the world, and in the last few weeks I’ve included tips on The USA and The UAE. It made me think that many people have probably never thought about why some countries use ‘the’ and others don’t.


Over the years as a linguist, translator and university teacher in language, it’s something I’ve looked at with clients and students, and I think it’s time to share it with you, too!


We rarely think about our own language. But there’s so much to learn and it’s empowering to understand how it works and how we can choose to express ideas in one way or another, depending on what we want to communicate.



So, when do we say ‘the’ with a country?


The basic rule is this: if the country is a combination of different states or areas, we use ‘the’.


So:

  • The United Kingdom (vs. England, Wales or Scotland – one defined area)

  • The United States

  • The Canary Isles

  • The Philippines

  • The Bahamas

  • The Dominican Republic


Notice how they’re the combination of various areas, be that states or islands?

It’s often a combination of historical usage, and the idea we have in our minds. When we travel to The Bahamas (if we’re lucky enough!) we would think of the area, rather than just one island.


We also use the when the name has a political title, so for example The Republic of China.


And then there are the anomalies, which still carry ‘the’ even though this usage is outdated or no longer important in English. This is what happens with The Netherlands (‘The Low Lands’).


I hope you’ve found this interesting, we certainly do!


Are there any other questions you have about language that you'd like to ask us?

Tell us! Send your questions to info@onno.training and we'll get back to you in a video or blog post.



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