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Is there a rule beyond the common "no the with proper nouns and names" for the following problem?

I saw the Empire State Building.

We went to the White House.

We saw the Golden Gate Bridge.

but

I went to Death Valley National Park.

I crossed Brooklyn Bridge.

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It actually is the Brooklyn Bridge reasonably often. A better example would be London Bridge. –  Peter Shor Feb 26 '12 at 12:04
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possible duplicate of Using the definite article before a country/state name –  FumbleFingers Feb 26 '12 at 17:14
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@RegDwight: Perhaps you could do the donkey work and merge all of these "related" questions into one. I think it's silly that we have so many which are all just variations on a theme. –  FumbleFingers Feb 26 '12 at 17:16
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4 Answers

For buildings, there are no clear rules. We say “The Eiffel Tower” but there’s no the in “Tokyo Tower”. We say “The White House” and “The New York Met”, but there’s no the in “Sydney Opera House”.

In general, we use the for proper nouns denoting:

  • plural names (The Simpsons, The Philippines, …)
  • any institution or establishment where part of the name is a noun denoting the kind of institution or establishment (The British Broadcasting Corporation, The White House, The French Republic, …)
  • newspapers (but not magazines)
  • rivers, canals, seas and oceans (but not lakes)

But note that we do not use the if there is an “’s” in the name, even when the apostrophe has been dropped. (St Paul’s Cathedral, Harrods Department Store, …)

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I’ve rewritten this answer to incorporate the information in the links in J.R.’s answer. –  Pitarou Feb 26 '12 at 14:58
    
Think your last paragraph has gone off-beam. You yourself cite The Simpsons. And churches never take an article anyway. Shops are a whole new question; eg english.stackexchange.com/q/14796/8019 –  TimLymington Mar 8 '12 at 14:27
    
@TimLymington The Simpsons is a plural, not an “’s”. I thought the churches rules was just an instance of the “’s” and institution rules, since most churches’ official names are something like “Saint John’s Church” or “The Church of Our Lady”. –  Pitarou Mar 8 '12 at 14:37
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These two references explain the use of "THE" with proper nouns rather nicely:

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In the end, we usually go with what sounds most correct (although "The Ohio State University" may be an exception...) –  J.R. Feb 26 '12 at 10:05
    
These references are better than the ones I linked to. –  Pitarou Feb 26 '12 at 14:21
    
I took the liberty of rewriting my answer to incorporate the summary Jasper Loy asked for. –  Pitarou Feb 26 '12 at 14:57
    
@Pitarou, then you should also edit the references into your answer –  jwpat7 Sep 5 '12 at 23:21
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In American dialects it is the predominant habit to use "the" with structures (including "the Brooklyn Bridge," but to omit "the" with places that have less specific or pertinent boundaries (such as a National Park). Often, the use or omission of "the" conveys a particular nuance. "I went to Cowboys Stadium," implies that I went to the general location and/or to many places within the bounds of the place; whereas, "I went to the Cowboys Stadium" connotes a trip to the structure itself, maybe to examine or photograph it, perhaps.

More often than not, however, the use or omission of "the" simply reflects local, regional, or national idiomatic usage. British usage, for instance, says "He was in hospital following his accident"; while American usage is "He was in the hospital…" Likewise with "university"; British omits "the" while American inserts it.

Within America, within California even, denizens of the Los Angeles region insert "the" before freeway identifiers: "I took the 405," "I'm on the Santa Monica"; while San Francisco Bay Area residents say: "I took 101 north to the City," "I'm on Bayshore."

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When it is one of a kind, we use the article: The Sun, The Moon, The Matterhorn. If the word has a title (Mt.), it does not take an article. Names from foreign languages take the article as translated: The Eiffle Tower. Oceans take the article: The Pacific, The Atlantic.

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Why in The world are you capitalize The articles?? It’s just the White House, not *The White House. –  tchrist Jun 21 '13 at 17:22
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