Although English is my first and only language, I've always wondered why religious texts are preceded by "the", although they really can just be seen as pieces of literature (I'd rather not get into religion). Say I'm reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, I wouldn't say,

I've been reading the Fahrenheit 451 a lot recently.

I would say,

I've been reading Fahrenheit 451 a lot recently.

But when I'm saying I'm reading a religious text, you have to put the in front of the religious text, otherwise it would sound incorrect (I'd say grammatically but I'm no grammar professional). It seems like putting the in front of a religious text is making it more/a higher version of a proper noun compared to other pieces of literature, if that makes any sense.

Why does this occur?

Edit: Just by the way, Fahrenheit 451 was just an example. Also, I don't mean that they included the article the in the title, I meant that why do we call it that since they're not explicitly in the title itself(i.e., written on the cover)

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    Not just religious texts; famous texts of all kinds. The Arabian Nights, The Kama Sutra, The Posterior Analytics, The Almagest, etc. It's really just a mark of being a very specific, definite, and presupposed work. Naturally religious works are included. Dec 28 '14 at 18:32
  • Not all journal editors in Classics approve, but the English definite article is routinely prefixed to the titles of classical texts including the epics of Homer and Hesiod, the Greek tragedies, and the dialogues of Plato. Latin does not have a definite article, but Greek does, and it is not generally found in the actual Greek titles of these works, though references to them in Greek texts like [the] Poetics do use the article, as generally do third-person mentions of persons by name. It is clearly not just a matter of fame or uniqueness: no one refers to "the Hamlet." Dec 28 '14 at 20:27
  • The difference between the ones that get the article and the ones that don't is, I think, that those that get the article are common nouns and those that don't are proper nouns. For example, we say The sun is shining but not *The Mars is red. This is why Fahrenheit 451 and Hamlet don't get the article. And we can switch between the two relatively freely, as in The Kennedy Center vs. Lincoln Center. So we can turn a common noun into a proper noun, but not vice versa.
    – Alan Munn
    Dec 28 '14 at 22:08
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    @AlanMunn But "the" is routinely prefixed to such tragedy titles as Agamemnon, Antigone, and Medea, proper nouns all. Dec 29 '14 at 1:05
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    @AlanMunn using an article before a proper name is standard Greek syntax. All your examples are from Greek.
    – Theresa
    May 1 '17 at 20:29

That is partly because Bradbury didn't name the book, The Fahrenheit 451. He did, however, name other books The Martian Chronicles, The Halloween Tree, The Illustrated Man, etc.

There are many "bibles" (authoritative books). Bible comes from the Greek biblia ‘books', from biblion ‘book’. Refering to it as The Bible sets it apart from other (authoritative) books.

It is simple English grammar, not professional-level. When you're talking about a specific thing, you use the definite article the: The White House, The Oval Office, The Grand Canyon. When you're referring to a non-specific thing, you use the indefinite article a: a white house, a large office, a small canyon in Pennsylvania.

Not to say that articles aren't sometimes confusing; they are. You know how to use them properly because you've heard them used every day of your life. You know what sounds right and what sounds "off". English learners don't have that advantage. They have to memorize the rules, to which there are some exceptions, such as Times Square and Capitol Hill.

The tallest building in the world is in the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai, and is called The Burj Khalifa, which means "Khalifa Tower".

The movie Alien scared me half to death in 1979. Blade Runner was the best movie I saw in 1982. Lately, director Ridley Scott seems to have lost his footing with movies like Exodus: Gods and Kings. I wonder if The Martian will be any good.

Learn more about using articles here.


Because this is largely an issue of convention and only partially an issue of grammar, a full answer would be complex and would certainly have dissenting views. Therefore, I think it best to focus on the major driver of this convention: definitive articles.

As mentioned by the user, medica, "Bible" is derived from a word that simply means "book." Not coincidentally, your other two examples comes from common words. "Quran" originally meant "to recite" because the first couple hundred years of those religious words were strictly an oral tradition, but once the words were written down, Quran took on a few new meanings, including "book." "Torah" comes from torah, which means an instruction or a law.

In modern English, proper nouns are capitalized, but that convention has only been around for a relatively short time. Simply read the US Declaration of Independence to see that capitalization of nouns was not strict.

Therefore, for most of the history of the English language if one were speaking about the book written about the life of Jesus, simply saying "bible" would be ambiguous. By adding the the definitive article, the, it was more clear which bible the speaker meant. (I am purposely avoiding modern capitalization to emphasize the ambiguity that existed before the standardization of capitalization of nouns.)

If a definitive article can reduce ambiguity, then it seems likely that it will eventually become a convention.

There is one other common feature in your examples: the supremacy of the objects within their class. "The bible" theoretically still has ambiguity, but in a culture that considers one book superior to all other books, the ambiguity is nearly non-existent.

Frankly, however, the best answer to your question might be, "Because we have done it that way for a long time."

  • You're confusing spelling conventions with grammatical properties. The word bible entered Middle English from French, and has always been used with the definite article to refer to the actual Christian bible. And the issue is not about supremacy, but simply uniqueness. That's why we say "The sun" and "the moon". And since common singular nouns typically can't appear without an article in English, the use of the definite to refer to unique instances of something is required. The interesting cases (as noted in the comments) are ones which take an article but aren't in fact common nouns.
    – Alan Munn
    Dec 30 '14 at 17:21
  • Neither a sun nor a moon are unique. There are far more of both than there are books/bibles or laws/torahs. Dec 30 '14 at 18:42
  • Not with respect to the point of view of someone living on the Earth. There is one (relevant) moon and one (relevant) sun. The scope of determiners is always contextually dependent. That's what allows you to say things like "Is everyone here?" and not be always wrong. Similarly when you say "the president" in the context of the US you mean usually "the unique current president" even though there are dozens of US presidents.
    – Alan Munn
    Dec 30 '14 at 18:44

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