The White House needs the definite article:

But Blair House doesn't need the definite article as shown on their website:

We invite you to visit Blair House through the pages of this book and experience --through its photos and text -- America's welcome and hospitality that is extended to world leaders and to all who pass through its doors.


  • 2
    Pretty sure it's do with the fact Blaire is a name. You don't visit the David Mitchell you visit David Mitchell.
    – DRF
    Dec 7, 2018 at 19:33
  • 1
    Yes, Blair is a proper noun. There is no "a Blaire House," but there are plenty "white houses."
    – Carly
    Dec 7, 2018 at 19:43
  • 1
    @carly The slightly strange bit is you also visit Number 10 though there certainly are many number 10's. I'm reading through CGEL to see if I can figure this out.
    – DRF
    Dec 7, 2018 at 19:44
  • I'll be interested to know whether someone has come up with a compelling explanation that goes beyond "custom". I mean, certainly it was originally "the white house", common noun phrase, and then they proper-named it but it was already habitually preceded by "the". Anything beyond that will, I bet, smack of retrofitting! Dec 7, 2018 at 20:12
  • @GreenGrassoHolm I'm writing up an answer from CGEL. It seems there are some rules but they differ between languages and seem somewhat lax from what I understand so far.
    – DRF
    Dec 7, 2018 at 20:13

1 Answer 1


TlDr: I don't think we know exactly but most likely the fact that a white house is a thing makes it important that we use the White House. At the same time Blair House even though it's head is not a proper noun is special enough that we omit the.

This is an interesting difference which depends on the difference between weak and strong proper names. Wherever I'm quoting in the following it's from Huddleston and Pullum's CGEL. (and wherever I'm not quoting it's also from CGEL but rephrased.:) )

Both the White House and Blair House are proper names1. Proper names are

expressions which have been conventionally adopted as the name of a particular entity - or, in the case of plurals like the Hebrides, a collection of entities.

All proper names refer to a specific entity and the entity is inherently definite. That means you can't use "a" with them, and don't need to use "the". But

We distinguish, then, between strong proper names like Kim and New York, where there is no determiner, and weak proper names like the Thames or the Bronx, where definiteness is redundantly marked by the definite article the.

It turns out that the White House is a weak proper name unlike Blair House which is strong. That doesn't actually explain much though since the next obvious question would why is one weak and one strong. The answer to that I couldn't actually find.

It turns out there are some rules regarding weak and strong proper names. Namely plural proper names are always weak. Mountain ranges and island groups are examples of these. Countries usually have strong names though there are exceptions, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the Netherlands. Usually weak proper names with proper nouns as heads include: geographically defined regions, famous buildings, rivers, straits, seas, oceans, deserts, political/military authorities, libraries, galleries,museums,religious tracts.

On the other hand names of individual mountains are usually strong (Ben Nevis, Mount Everest, Nanga Parbat) "but those in the Swiss alps may have weak names" (the Eiger, the Jungfrau, the Matterhorn).

My personal opinion regarding why there it is the White House as compared to Blair House is that Blair in this case is a proper adjective. The same thing happens with places like Hatfield House, Chatsworth house, Burghley House and really just about any named house in England whose name comes from the name of a family or town.

1: These are not the same as proper nouns "which are word-level units belonging to the category noun, Clinton and Zealand are proper nouns, but New Zealand is not."

  • 1
    OK, so The Blair Witch Project should not have the definite article? ^_^
    – Robusto
    Dec 7, 2018 at 21:14
  • @Robusto Good point. I'm guessing the houses are actually special due to history. Maybe due to conflation with the village or town they governed/owned? My argument certainly doesn't explain why Number 10 has no the either. But there it seems to come down to the fact that adresses don't get definite determiners.
    – DRF
    Dec 7, 2018 at 21:18
  • Re the names of countries, Ukraine has changed its name from the weak, arthrous "The Ukraine" to the strong, anarthrous "Ukraine" - an interesting case where the presence or absence of an article has geopolitical implications. Dec 7, 2018 at 21:20
  • @robusto Actually my last comment doesn't explain it either. Beatrix Potter's house is Hill Top and not ?the Hill Top as is Thomas Hardy's Max Gate.
    – DRF
    Dec 7, 2018 at 21:23
  • @MarkBeadles Hmm interesting. There are apparently also strong+weak countries Gambia or the Gambia. I'm assuming the Argentine and Argentina was also a geopolitical change? That is you would be much more likely to call it the Argentine back when it wasn't actually an independent country?\
    – DRF
    Dec 7, 2018 at 21:25

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