From federal officials to NPR news hosts (and at many points between), I'm hearing American people (who should know) refer to our country as "United States", whereas I was taught (about 40 years ago) to call our nation "The United States". Why and when did people start dropping the article?

I don't need convincing that it sounds wrong. I'm on board with that. I'd like to know why educated people started choosing to drop the definite article. Is this a thing worth keeping or even caring about--like whether you put your comma inside or outside of a quotation mark? I'm ready to be convinced that I'm the one doing it wrong, but you'll need to make a strong, sound argument.

  • Maybe the “th” sound is hard for some people whose first language is not English?
    – user205876
    Apr 7, 2020 at 18:47
  • It's part of a left-wing plot, maybe? Those NPR and Washington DC types, you know.... Apr 7, 2020 at 18:48
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    phillihp, you aren't making it very clear what exactly you are getting riled about. Saying "I'm in Canada now and I'm going to United States next week" would be an error, but saying "Many United States cities have skyscrapers" is perfectly normal. Apr 7, 2020 at 19:18
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    Examples are needed to answer this. (For example, in headlines it is extremely rare to see the definition article ever.)
    – Laurel
    Apr 7, 2020 at 19:33

2 Answers 2


I found my answer in Merrill Perlman's November 2018 article for Columbia Journalism Review: Getting to Know Definite and Indefinite Articles.

We used to say "the Ukraine," "the Sudan," and "the Congo," but that was when they were attached to other countries. Now, according to the CIA World Factbook, the only nations with "the" in front of their names are "The Gambia" and "The Bahamas." ...it's just "United States," according to the CIA Factbook... Over at the U.N., only a few member nations get "the" in front of their names... Our nation is "United States of America," still without its "the."

It's a great article that goes on to totally explain the whole thing--including why it sounds better with the definite article to both Brits and Americans.

For those who like to see the source texts, here's a link to the CIA World Factbook's disappointingly bland "US Summary."

  • According to my colleague from Ukraine, it was always wrong to say "the Ukraine" (even though that was common), for the same reason that it is wrong to say "the Australia" or "the France".
    – nnnnnn
    Apr 7, 2020 at 21:47

The United States, or the United States of America in full, takes a singular verb because the term designates a single country rather than a collection of states. The expression these United States appears occasionally in American publications, but this plural form is not recommended in formal writing.

I think "The" is never omitted from "The United States". I only the matter of where we use this.

  • I'd be the first to agree with you, Bablu, that the definite article shouldn't be omitted, but I've heard it done often enough by well educated American officials and media types to know that the shorter usage is popular in some circles.
    – phillihp
    Apr 7, 2020 at 19:08
  • ok... maybe it's possible that's why I will do more search on it. :) Apr 7, 2020 at 19:15

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