Thursday, October 11, 2007

Using "The" With Place Names

My sister Patricia, who is studying in Poland right now, left a question for me the other day. She wanted to know why we refer to our country as the Philippines and not simply Philippines. It's funny how a question as simple as this can make you think about something you've taken as a fact. So, why do we say the Philippines?

I did some research and I found two answers to this question. The first is that some place names (names of countries, regions, mountains, rivers, etc.) use the depending on the grammatical pattern of the name. Hence, Philippines uses the because it is a plural name. After all, our country is composed of several islands and our country's name shows this. In this sense, we are similar to the U.S.A. They're the United States of America (there are several states in one country).

The second answer is that using the for place names is a question of convention rather than the rule. In other words, we use the for certain place names because we're used to doing so. Consider the expression the Bronx. The place name "Bronx" is not a plural name but convention dictates that we say the Bronx instead of just Bronx.

The English language has many cases of convention rather than rules dictating how or why we say things in a certain way. Unfortunately (and this is what complicates the learning of English), the only way to get around this is to be aware of these conventions. Check a grammar book! Check a dictionary! Or, you can ask me!

Thanks for the question, Pat! It's nice to know I have a reader in Poland, even if she is my sister.

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