This question already has an answer here:

Teaching definite and indefinite articles to Slavic students is very challenging because they don't have articles in their native languages. For instance, I have quite a few students who use "the" liberally, i.e., before names of cities ("I live in the Prague.").

I often tell my students that names of cities usually aren't preceded by the definite article. In fact, I can only think of two exceptions: The Hague and the Vatican (though the latter is probably short for the Vatican State).

Which leads me to my question: Why do we say "THE Hague"? Thanks a lot!

marked as duplicate by tchrist, choster, Matt E. Эллен, aedia λ, MetaEd Feb 12 '14 at 0:09

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 1
    Related (possible dupe): english.stackexchange.com/q/28177/8019 – TimLymington Feb 9 '14 at 18:12
  • You need to ask this of a Dutch person. The official name is 's-Gravenhage', which I think means 'the Count's Hedge'or something. In Holland it gets shortened to 'Den Haag', presumably meaning 'The Hague'. There is an extensive Wiki article, which may help. Among English football teams only Arsenal are sometimes referred to as 'The Arsenal' - but that's another story. – WS2 Feb 9 '14 at 18:23
  • Ok then, why The Ukraine, instead of just Ukraine? – stib Feb 9 '14 at 22:10
  • 1
    It used to be the Ukraine, but they've already dropped the definite article. @stib – Louel Feb 9 '14 at 22:30
  • yes, but why? And there's also The Congo. – stib Feb 10 '14 at 12:28

In modern Dutch, the name of the city is either 's Gravenhage ("The Count's Hedge/Terrain/Court") or Den Haag ("[In] The Hedge"). Haag is the same word as -hage. The name Den Haag is the neutral or less formal name, whereas 's Gravenhage is rather formal or official.

The origin of the name is that the court of the Counts of Holland and their successors has been in The Hague since the Middle Ages and still is (now the Royal Court and Parliament); one would say "hij is in den Hage", meaning "he is in the Hedge/Court", where den is the dative/accusative case of the article de, "the". So it would have made more sense for the name to be simply Haag. But the inflected article indicates by its case that it is about a location, and it was somehow coupled with the proper name and has become part of it.

In many cases, such an article is lost in translation, because articles are usually not used the same way in a different language. But, in this case, other languages kept and translated the Dutch article, so in French it is La Haye, in Spanish La Haya, in English The Hague.

The city of Istanbul probably (this is not entirely certain) comes from Greek Eis tên polin, meaning "(In)to the city". It was somehow interpreted as a proper name and written attached, and other languages just started using the Turkish name at some point.

The French city of Lille comes from l'Ille or l'Isle, meaning "the island". But the region it is in used to speak more Dutch than now, and the official name in Dutch is now Rijsel, which comes from Ter IJsel, "In(to) the Isle", which was incorrectly analysed as coming from *Te Rijsel. French and Dutch still have many other modern city names having definite articles and even prepositions, like Le Havre ("The Haven"), Den Ham, Ter Apel ("in/at/to the Apel"), etc.

  • Excellent! This is the explanation I need. Thanks! – Louel Feb 9 '14 at 18:22

Cerberus' answer is of course excellent, but there may be some more details to consider.

Another Dutch city with the same "affliction" is Den Bosch, which is officially known as 's Hertogenbosch, the dukes' forest. Although the inflected article remained in the modern name, it was not always (consistently) used. Den Bosch was the birthplace of Hieronymus Bosch, the painter, who named himself after his birth place, but obviously without using the article.

In addition to the examples given by Cerberus, the first ones I thought of were the quite obvious Las Vegas and 'Los Angeles` in the US. Although the names are not translated into English, they obviously have articles.

For country names the same goes: in some cases an article is a logical part of the original (indigenous) name.

The Netherlands is an obvious example in this context, of course, meaning the low countries. (Holland actually has a similar meaning etymologically).

As for The Congo, it was named after the river Congo.

Furthermore there are country names that indicate a plural, or for other reasons take an article when we refer to them: the UK, the USA, the UAE, the USSR.

  • The most probable etymology for Holland is in fact hout-land, "wood-land". gtb.inl.nl/iWDB/… As to Bosch, Hieronymus lived long before the names Den Haag and Den Bosch became established as such, with the fixed articles; I think that must have happened only around the 19th century? Even now, the adjectives derived from Den Haag are of course still Haags, Hagenaar, Hagenees (only children would say Den Haags). – Cerberus Feb 10 '14 at 21:51
  • Something else I was wondering about is why it is La Haye, but Bois-le-Duc. The French also have Bar-le-Duc and other similar names: were the names 's Hertogenbosch and 's Gravenhage perhaps influenced by French customs? But then why aren't they literal translations? But there are also 's Gravenzande and 's Graveland, so probably not. – Cerberus Feb 10 '14 at 22:03

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