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Using the definite article before a country/state name

Hearing the Ukraine used to make me unsure whether Ukraine was really a country. Now though I have realized Ukraine to be a country on the same level as Austria, for instance, I still don't understand why it is often the Ukraine in English, but never the Austria or the Poland. Where did that odd phrase come from, and why is it in use?

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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, jwpat7, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, Marthaª, KitFox Feb 21 '12 at 19:44

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Ukraine not a country? You're an American, right? :) –  RiMMER Feb 21 '12 at 17:13
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Believe me, that was a loooong time ago ;) –  Daniel Feb 21 '12 at 17:14
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Yes, but kingdom and states are words by themselves, so the United States and the United Kingdom sound natural. The Ukraine doesn't follow. –  Daniel Feb 21 '12 at 17:17
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Interesting that all of those examples start with a U sound: The United States, The United Kingdom, The Ukraine, The Yukon. I wonder if it is a pronunciation aid. –  KitFox Feb 21 '12 at 17:32
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The Bahamas. The Czech Republic. The United Arab Emirates. I've heard both "Congo" and "the Congo", and "Gambia" and "the Gambia". I have no idea what the rule is. I doubt there is one, it's probably just the conventions of each country. –  Jay Feb 21 '12 at 19:03

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

It was referred to as the Ukraine when it was a part of the former Soviet Union. Since they were split apart and Ukraine became a country it should properly be called Ukraine without the definite article.

Note:

The name Ukraine, which first appeared in the historical chronicles in 1187, has been common in the English language for almost 350 years. In the earliest years it appeared without the definite article 'the' but in this century the definite article increasingly preceded the name Ukraine. ... many Ukrainian immigrant scholars, due to their imperfect knowledge of English, used the form 'the Ukraine' in their books thus helping to perpetuate this usage.

Ukrainians who understood why Soviets were using the article 'the' complained. In Russian, obviously, the word 'Ukraina' has no article. Since the Soviet Union broke apart, Ukrainians have been pushing very hard to have the article 'the' removed from the English translation, so as to be linguistically correct, ie to show that Ukraine is a separate, independent country, not part of another country.

~ Source

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1  
It is quite true in the case of Ukraine, but there are circumstances under which the article is expected and unrelated to independence or imperialism, such as collectives (The Philippines, St. Vincent and the Grenadines) or names that are or originated in descriptive phrases (the Czech Republic, the United Arab Emirates). El Salvador is yet another matter. –  choster Feb 21 '12 at 18:04

Simply put, it was named "The Ukraine" back when it was part of the Soviet Union but removed the article after the Iron Curtain fell.

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I wouldn't necessarily talk about the Iron Curtain, but grammatically, you're right :) –  RiMMER Feb 21 '12 at 17:20
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Pedantry: the Iron Curtain fell in the early-mid 20th Century, and was raised in the late 1980s. –  slim Feb 21 '12 at 17:25

The name 'Ukraina' means borderland, and that may explain the presence of the definite article in some English appellations, but the name of the country is simply ‘Ukraine’.

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Reminds me a bit of the Welsh marches. If you’ve got all day, look up Welsh in the OED3: they wrote a book about it. –  tchrist Feb 21 '12 at 18:48

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