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Usually, we do not use the definite article, the, before names of countries but we use the before "United States of America".

Is there a specific reason for using the article before the country "United States of America"?

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marked as duplicate by choster, MετάEd, Mitch, TrevorD, Kris Sep 16 '13 at 12:46

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The is used in front of countries that have:

  • plural names:
    the Netherlands

  • a general geo-political noun of place, e.g. republic, emirate, kingdom, state:
    the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom.

On a related note, see this post on the capitalization of articles in names:

You only capitalize The when it is the first word in a title of book or a play. . . . In contrast, the word the is not normally capitalized in front of proper nouns that aren’t titles, like . . . the United States of America. . . .

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Thanks for the improvement, Bradd. I'm still learning the ropes. –  Talia Ford Sep 16 '13 at 23:38

Most country names are only a single word, or might include a geographical description (eg North Korea, South Korea).

The United States of America is plural. It means The States of America which are united. You cannot use States without The.

Other examples are:

The United Kingdom
The United Arab Emirates
The Netherlands (literally the Low Lands, also known as Holland)

Groups of islands also take The:

The Phillippines
The Azores

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RE: "You cannot use States without The." That sounds overly restrictive to me; there are a few contexts where a "the" wouldn't be required, such as United States Postal Service, or a newspaper headline such as United States Moves Forward On Health Care, or a sentence like A 2010 United States census showed a modest increase in longevity. –  J.R. Sep 15 '13 at 5:25
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@J.R. In your examples United States is either an adjective or a headline, and headlines don't follow normal rules of sentence structure. OP is asking about the name of the country, a noun. –  Mynamite Sep 15 '13 at 19:41

Using 'the' for a country name is a bit unpredictable.

As a guideline, country names that describe a physical geographic feature use 'the'. A group of islands, a river, or a mountain rage. For comparison, think of other geographical features such as the Sahara or the Amazon. Country names that describe a political features also use 'the'. This is usually a republic, or a political union - The United Kingdom or The United States of America.

The unpredictability comes when geographic or political features are unclear or forgotten. Lebanon is named after a mountain range, Sudan after a desert, Gambia after a river, and Ukraine = 'borderland', but none of those normally use a definite article.

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Though the form "the Ukraine" was once the more common term in English, it has become less accepted after the Ukrainian government officially requested that the article be dropped in 1993, shortly after independence. Most sources have since dropped the article in favour of simply "Ukraine". - Ukraine on Wikipedia –  Talia Ford Sep 15 '13 at 5:17
    
That is why I said "... and Ukraine = 'borderland', but none of those normally use a definite article." I think the use of a definite article in English might be a legacy from the Soviet era "The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic", but it is only a hunch. I have been told that Germans still use a definite article with Ukraine? –  Roaring Fish Sep 15 '13 at 5:30

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