Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

There's a film just out called Salmon fishing in the Yemen.

I've also heard people talk about the country Yemen as "the Yemen".

Is it wrong to call Yemen "The Yemen" - or does it date back to some colonial era, where that was what people said?

share|improve this question
possible duplicate of Using the definite article before a country/state name – FumbleFingers May 25 '12 at 16:14

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

See also Using the definite article before a country/state name .

The names of regions often take the definite article, especially if they are named after a natural feature such as a river or mountain, as in "the Congo" or "the Lebanon." Before Yemen was the name of a country, it was a historical region, and called "the Yemen" much like "the Argentine" or "the Gold Coast."

The article has fallen out of use in some cases (e.g. Sudan for the Republic of the Sudan), in other cases it is officially discouraged (e.g. Ukraine, not the Ukraine), in others it is part of the name and always included (e.g. The Gambia), and in still others it is not considered part of the name but is nevertheless always included (e.g. the United Kingdom).

I am not sure of the era when the film is set. It is possible that "the Yemen" is what the main character, an Brit, would have called that region in that time, or that the old name is used deliberately to highlight a prejudice or neo-colonial attitude toward Yemen on his part.

share|improve this answer
aha! thank you!! – Stretch May 24 '12 at 23:54

It may be something else entirely, like salmon fishing in the Columbia, or the Amazon, or the Nile.

It’s not like people call British Columbia “the Columbia”. It’s a river.

share|improve this answer

tchrist is right. From the description of a movie:

A British fisheries expert is cast to bring to life a sheik’s vision of spawning hope and peace for his people through the introduction of salmon into the Yemen River.

share|improve this answer
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was previously a book, with that same plot. – GEdgar May 25 '12 at 13:11

The Yemen is technically correct, as yemen means south. (Or, to be really precise, on the right-hand side, the assumption in Arabic being that you describe directions as if you were facing the sunrise.) But only an extraordinarily pedantic person would object to Yemen.

This etymology implies using the because in English, when you make a proper noun (i.e. a name) out of a description or a common noun, you insert the definite article, the. This is just an example of the standard use of the, which is to indicate that a phrase which could apply to many different things is actually being used to refer to one particular pre-selected thing. The rule is compulsory if the description or common noun is in English (the Gulf, not *Gulf; the Cape, not *Cape), but if it’s in a foreign language it may be optional, this being largely determined by common usage. So definitely the Netherlands, (the Lowlands), not *Netherlands (Lowlands), but on the other hand, definitely Detroit, (Strait) not *the Detroit (the Strait), while you get the choice in (the) Yemen and (the) Ukraine.

The names of rivers almost always get a the, but this is a quite separate and less logical convention, as it applies whatever the derivation of the river’s name. While it seems that the countries the Congo and the Gambia inherit their the’s from the corresponding rivers, that explanation can’t apply to the Yemen, as there is no river there with that name. In fact there are no rivers there at all, only seasonal wadis.

Of course, the the is there in the country’s Arabic name al-Jumhūrīyah al-Yamanīyah, literally the Republic of the South. This adds force to the argument, but it is not necessary. For instance, the Russian name for the Crimea is Krim, with no definite article, since Russian doesn’t have any articles at all. But educated Russians are taught that the word means fortress in Tartar, so if they are also fluent in English, they will tend to call it the Crimea rather than just Crimea, and this has carried over into educated English.

The choice of the Ukraine or Ukraine has become politicized. Until the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s almost everyone used the the, and omitting it was widely considered an error. This is because, as described on the Wikipedia page Name_of_Ukraine, the name is standardly derived from the word for borderland in Slavic languages. (Hence also the Krajina, the borderland between Serbia and Croatia — the pronunciations are very similar in the original languages.) The Ukraine was the borderland between Russia on the one side and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire on the other. But as the Wikipedia article notes, during the period of Romantic nationalism it was popular to trace the origin of the country name to an ancient ethnonym, which is sometimes given as the Ukrs. That would imply no article — the land of the Angles is England, not *the England, and the land of the Franks is France, not *the France, so the land of the Ukrs should be Ukraine, not *the Ukraine.

A couple of years after independence, the new Ukrainian state changed the approved English form from the Ukraine to Ukraine, presumably under the influence of Romantic Nationalists who wanted to suppress any reminders that Ukrainian identity was actually just a renaming of Malorossian, i.e. Little Russian, identity, and instead wanted to see it as derived from the mythical Ukrs, who supposedly predated Russia by thousands of years. (Little Russia means the original heartland of Russia, as opposed to Great(er) Russia, the areas expanded into later. See the paragraph starting Just to clarify from the blogger known as The Saker, who incidentally gets his the by exactly the mechanism being discussed here.) Though The Saker doesn’t mind if other people leave out the the from the Ukraine, he gets very irritated with people who impudently tell him that he must do the same, as he sees that as a demand that he should suppress the truth for the sake of a divisive and false politically-inspired mythology.

share|improve this answer
Please stop putting capitalized articles on proper nouns. That is incorrect English. – tchrist Apr 4 at 16:16
@tchrist It's not incorrect for The Gambia. (Also in The Gambia government site, although that seems a bit slower) – Andrew Leach Apr 4 at 16:29
Is this a British English vs. American English thing? As a Brit, I'd feel it very disrespectful to deprive The Saker of his capital-T. – kgbgb Apr 4 at 17:17
ELU revolves around English, but I for one am willing to call people pretty much whatever they want to be called. At minimum, the Yemeni government should confirm the real name with In some way, it helps to know the people of (The?) Ukraine are still arguing about their name. Just wondering: does anyone in Yemen prefer The Yemen, or is this just a pedantic argument of translation of an ancient moniker? We need the people of (The?) Yemen to come out of the closet about their real name! – ScotM Apr 4 at 22:11
I would prefer to stand on the friendly side of The Saker. All the military analysts I know are friends, and it seems wise to keep it that way :-) – ScotM Apr 4 at 22:58

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.