"the" before country name

David Bowie db.list at PMPKN.NET
Mon May 12 10:13:23 UTC 2008

From:    "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>


> ...The Netherlands and (formerly) the Ukraine are the only =
> examples of country names with "the" that come to mind...

(John had already discussed the US, of course.)

Working from Wikipedia's list of countries
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries, the following seem to my
intuition to require a preceding the (leaving aside formal names like
"Principality of Andorra", which almost always require a the for me);
those followed by an asterisk include a the in the Wikipedia list:

The Bahamas*
The Cayman Islands
The Cook Islands
The Czech Republic
The Falkland Islands
The Faroe Islands
The Gambia*
The Isle of Man
The Netherlands
The Northern Mariana Islands
The Philippines
The Ukraine
The United Kingdom (also obligatory for the full name)
The United States (also obligatory for the full name)
The British Virgin Islands
The US Virgin Islands

As you can see, having a Adj+N-like stricture (Cook Islands, Czech
Republic), makes a definite article quite likely--but that's not the
only thing going on: The Bahamas, The Gambia, The Netherlands (though
that one's marginal, since that's a transparent Adj+N compound), The
Philippines, The Ukraine (sorry, there's no transparent English
translation of borderness there).

Note also that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines requires an internal the.

Worth noting, though, that that structure doesn't require a the, since
there's a plurality thing, too: *The Norfolk Island is right out. Also,
note below that some X Islands names only optionally use a the for me.

The following seem to my intuition to have an optional preceding the:

(The) Central African Republic
(The) Congo (either country by that informal name)
(The) Ivory Coast (but no the for Côte d'Ivoire)
(The) Marshall Islands
(The) Pitcairn Islands
(The) Senegal
(The) Seychelles
(The) Solomon Islands
(The) Turks and Caicos Islands
(The) United Arab Emirates (though The UAE is obligatory for me)
(The) Vatican City
(The) Western Sahara

I suspect that the optional the in (The) Seychelles is triggered largely
by the appearance of plurality, even though i'm not sure that it really
is plural.

There's also a minimal pair here, where according to my intuition
Palestine refers most naturally to the territories being argued about so
intensely right now, but The Palestine can only refer to the old British
Mandate territory (though undeterminered Palestine can also refer to
that for me, leading to potential ambiguity, but only a one-way ambiguity).


And then, of course, there's *El* Salvador...

David Bowie                               University of Central Florida
     Jeanne's Two Laws of Chocolate: If there is no chocolate in the
     house, there is too little; some must be purchased. If there is
     chocolate in the house, there is too much; it must be consumed.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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