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Using the definite article before a country/state name

We say “The United States of America” but not “The India”. Why is it so?

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Related english.stackexchange.com/questions/15484/… –  user19148 Feb 2 '13 at 13:24
    
No capital there on the. –  tchrist Feb 2 '13 at 13:57
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You do say America and the Republic of India. –  Jon Hanna Feb 2 '13 at 20:34
    
@JonHanna - "America" stretches from Tierra del Fuego to Point Barrow. Even closer to home we still have to deal with the Canadians. And depending on who is counting, the Mexicans, and possibly the next seven countries as well (as far as Panama). Then there's "The Americas ..." :-). FWIW (not much probably) Gargoyle NGams: The US, The USA, The Americas are interesting. –  Russell McMahon Feb 3 '13 at 10:54
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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, MετάEd, tchrist, coleopterist, Mitch Feb 2 '13 at 17:23

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2 Answers

"The", in "the United States of America", refers to the group of states, not the country's name. I agree that what adds to the confusion is that our nation is also frequently referred to by simply "the United States" or even "the US", but that is only the part of the name that defines we are a collection of territories called states. You wouldn't say "the America"

(However, you could say, "the Americas" to refer to the collective North and South American continents - but that's different!)

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It’s not “The United States”, but rather “the United States”. We only capitalize articles that precede proper nouns when they are at the start of a title of a book or movie, like perhaps The United States You Only Thought You Knew. –  tchrist Feb 2 '13 at 13:57
    
@tchrist, thanks, I had forgotten that. I edited my answer. :-) –  Kristina Lopez Feb 2 '13 at 13:59
    
the United States of America refers to the country's name, and it is named as such because the country is a group of states. –  mattacular Feb 2 '13 at 14:01
    
@mattacular, that is what my answer says too. What point are you making? –  Kristina Lopez Feb 2 '13 at 14:06
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If ' "the United States of America", refers to the group of states, not the country's name. ', then what IS the country's name? I suggest that you may find the distinction less clear cut than it appears. –  Russell McMahon Feb 3 '13 at 10:41
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It's wrong because it's not the correct name. It's not just a matter of usage but of the actual proper name involved. "The three tenors" would never be billed as "three tenors". Similarly, the Beatles, the USSR, the Bee Gees, the Alamo—whereas Abba is (or was) just Abba. As is Prince, Madonna, Elton John, and so on.

The article "the" in a country name has two forms. Somebody is welcome to provide the proper terminology.

  • "The United States of America" is (mayhap) a compound proper noun. Removing "the" returns, not a name but a manifestly incomplete fragment. Omission of "the" in the answer below is clearly incorrect:

    Q: Would you like the red or the green book? A: The green one, please.

  • Names where the name originally referred to a region or geographic area and which has become to be considered a name without day-to-day awareness of the historical basis.

    • The Gambia is almost invariably referred to as "Gambia". Wikipedia says:

      The Gambia (the i/ˈɡæmbiə/; officially the Republic of the Gambia), also commonly known as Gambia, is a country in West Africa."

      And then proceeds to call it "The Gambia" dozens of times with almost no exceptions. But, you will seldom hear it called "The Gambia" in the news.

    • New Zealand has two main islands, The North Island and The South Island. Never "North Island" and "South Island". Desmond Bagley set a novel in NZ, and had people flying down to "South Island" thereby instantly branding him as a furriner who had not done his research well enough.

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No capital on the. –  tchrist Feb 2 '13 at 13:57
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