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In this related question (Definite article with proper nouns, titles followed by a common noun), the OP asks if it is grammatical to use the definite article before phrases like Advanced programming in Java whitepaper and Microsoft Office 2010 product. The accepted answer by @Kosmonaut was:

Yes, it is. This is because the "Advanced programming in Java" whitepaper phrase forms a syntactic unit, with whitepaper as the head of the unit. The definite article for a phrase always corresponds to the head of the phrase, so using the definite (or indefinite) article for these phrases makes perfect sense and is correct English.

My question is whether the same answer applies to phrases like Heathrow Airport, Hyde Park, Waterloo Station, Edgware Road and Parliament Square. I ask becase it seems to me that airport, park and station, etc. sound like they are part of the proper noun itself, and not simply a common noun. Moreover, I think the head of the unit in these cases would be the place name (first noun) and not the place type (second noun). If that's true, then I assume that no definite article should precede these phrases. Is that correct?

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+1 for the question. I've often wondered why it's "Heathrow Airport" but "the Edgware Road", e.g. in Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell novels. –  teylyn Jul 18 '11 at 10:22
    
Thanks @teylyn. I'm including Edgware Road in the question... –  Ivo Rossi Jul 18 '11 at 10:35
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My guess about 'The Edgware Road' is that it used to be 'the road that went to Edgware' and over time this became changed to a proper noun, but the 'old' usage lives on... –  tinyd Jul 18 '11 at 10:48
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If I rightly recall, this distinction was a central point in a '50s film "The Brides of Fu Manchu", in which the evil baddie, Fu Manchu, threatens to destroy the Windsor Castle. The British Army are then called out to surround the Queen's residence and protect it from any such Oriental outrage. The General and the Chief Inspector then heave a sigh of relief until the S.S. Windsor Castle appears in the port of London... –  Brian Hooper Jul 20 '11 at 20:55
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I'm marking TimLymington's answer as accepted because it addresses very well the general question. And I'm awarding the bounty to alexg's answer as it was the one that first addressed (and addressed very well) the particular case of road names, which generated an interesting discussion with other users. –  Ivo Rossi Jul 22 '11 at 13:05

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Alexg has got it right, in my view. However, since OP says he is waiting for someone to provide a generalized answer, here's mine.

It is hardly ever wrong to omit the article. "The Mall" is the name on the signs, so must be used: "Strand" (the formal name) is both awkward and confusing, so 'the Strand' is usual: most English towns have a few similar names.

Otherwise, there are many names that have developed from descriptions; 'London Road' is the classic example. Most towns in the Home Counties have a road that leads towards London, and refer to it as 'the London road'. Often, when street names were being given, it was named "London Road". In such a case, locals will often call it 'the London Road', while outsiders including the Post Office call it 'London Road'; I wouldn't say either was right or wrong. (Road is, in practice, the only term to which this applies: "the High Street" is usual, but so is "Church Lane is the high street in that village.")

Similar rules apply to stations, airports, roundabouts, etc. Bournemouth has a roundabout with a Frizzell office block, which everyone calls "the Frizzell roundabout". The council put up a sign saying "Frizzell Roundabout", so you can call it either. As far as I can see, all names with articles follow this rule: you can call what used to be Eastleigh Airport (the airport for Southampton) either "Southampton Airport" or "the Southampton airport". "The Southampton Airport" is not correct, but is an understandable mistake; if enough people use it, the name will change.

One last purely national point; in theory, you could refer to a railway terminus named 'Thingtown Central' as either "Central Station" or "the Central"; maybe this happens in the US. Britain has too many places like Exeter, where Exeter Central is a suburban halt, and the central station is Exeter St David's. (The explanation is historical.) So "the Central Station" would be highly ambiguous, and is never used.

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I voted this up; @Ivo Rossi, is this the general answer you were looking for? –  alexg Jul 21 '11 at 1:55
    
@alexg, yes, it does; please see the comments that I just posted to the question, where I explain how I chose the answer to accept and the answer to award the bounty. Thanks! –  Ivo Rossi Jul 22 '11 at 13:08

These place names are used without "the" in sentences like "My flight is leaving from Heathrow Airport in forty minutes, and I'm only at Waterloo Station".

(The rest of this answer is describing usage in London and the south-east of England, since you are asking about London place names. Usage in other places is different! As Colin Fine points out in the comments below, usage differs even within the UK.)

Sometimes, you can say "the" before the name of a street. This is never compulsory (except in the special cases 4 and 5 below) but it can be done. I do not know that there is a general rule about when this is permissible. I suspect that the guiding principle is that sometimes, the name of the road coincides with the way you would describe it if it had no name - the Edgware road (small r) is a decent way of talking about whichever road goes to Edgware, and so "the Edgware Road" can be used as well.

  1. "The High Street" seems to work. This may be because "the high street" is a general term for the main street in a town.
  2. Descriptive road names can take "the", like "the King's Road", "the Strand", or "the Embankment".
  3. If it's X Road, and X is where the road goes, then you can often say "the X Road." But this probably only works for "Road", not "Street", "Lane", etc.
  4. Some streets have "the" as part of the name. Example: The Mall. (We never say "I walked along Mall.")
  5. For motorways and the like, we always say "the", as in "avoid the M25" rather than "avoid M25".

Here is an example, from The War of the Worlds (H. G. Wells, 1898):

There were one or two cartloads of refugees passing along Oxford Street, and several in the Marylebone Road, but so slowly was the news spreading that Regent Street and Portland Place were full of their Sunday-night promenaders ...

Oxford Street leads (eventually) to Oxford, but I have never heard it with "the". Marylebone is a region of London and it's where Marylebone Road is/leads. Regent Street and Portland Place are named after people, and are also not Roads.

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In the U.S., freeway numbers are prefixed with the in the greater Los Angeles area, but never on the East Coast. So it's "the 405" but "95". On the other hand, in the Northeast it's the Mass Pike, the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel (often called the Pike or the Parkway if it's clear which you are referring to). –  Peter Shor Jul 18 '11 at 13:54
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I think this analysis is spot on, particularly regarding the uniqueness of "Road". I would add that "Edgware Road" is also a district (centred around a mile or so of the much longer road called "Edgware Road"), so "the Edgware Road" can distinguish the road from the district; but that point doesn't apply to most other roads which can take "the". Thinking about Bradford, where I live, I can't think of any of the roads which commonly take "the", even Leeds Road and Manchester Road; so I wonder if it's a London thing. –  Colin Fine Jul 18 '11 at 14:59
    
alexg, thanks for this good answer on the usage of "the" before road names. I'm waiting to see if anybody else posts an answer to the general question involving other place types (airport, square, park, etc.). Or if everybody agrees with @pavium's answer that "the" is not used in any of these cases. –  Ivo Rossi Jul 19 '11 at 13:03
    
@Colin Fine: it's not just London but it may be a SE thing -- in Brighton, "the London Road" and several others are common. And alexg's analysis holds true for them all, as they are all named after a place, their destination, and would as "the X road", an otherwise anonymous road to X. –  jaybee Jul 20 '11 at 9:21
    
Marylebone, Edgware, and Euston were once villages near London (as was Westminster), and the roads leading to them haven't been renamed since those days. –  TimLymington Jul 20 '11 at 10:50

The related question and your own example mention the Advanced programming in Java whitepaper. The article as necessary because the discussion is about the whitepaper and Advanced programming in Java is adjectival, which is my interpretation of Kosmonaut's advice.

But I don't think we can extend the same example to sentences using Heathrow, Hyde Park, or Waterloo.

It's better to think of the proper noun as you would a person's name. Native English speakers don't refer to a person as, for example, the William, although I have heard it done by ESL speakers.

I hope someone can provide a firm rule for this situation. One of my work colleagues has been doing this for the past 35 years.

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"Hyde Park" is is a proper noun so does not use the definite article. However it would be "the Hyde Park fountains".

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No article is needed in front of most roads, streets, parks, squares or bridges.

e.g. Oxford Street, Orchard Road, Central Park, Times Square, Tower Bridge, etc.

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