I have a problem with the definite article 'the' in following sentence from Wikipedia:

Some of the namespaces may or may not be officially considered part of the BCL by Microsoft, but all are included as part of the libraries that are provided with Microsoft's implementation of the .NET Framework.

(BCL: Base Class Library)

Firstly, the sentence starts with 'Some of the namespaces', which is correct, because there are many namespaces and the author refers to a group of those namespaces. Next, 'part of the BCL by Microsoft': here is my problem. There is only one BCL, so 'the' is not indicating any specific member of a group. Secondly, just as 'the BCL', there is only one 'Microsoft', but it doesn't have 'the'. So how is this sentence correct?

My definition of 'the' has two parts. First, indication of a group and second, referring to a specific member in that group. For example, 'the teacher in school was pretty'. Here, school has many teachers and we refer to a specific teacher.

  • 1
    You cannot have your own definition of 'the'. It has been defined by grammar. That said, you have many more doubts apart from the definite article to be cleared of, as your drafting of the question shows. Among them, capitalization.
    – Kris
    Jan 16 '12 at 10:45
  • I'm voting to close as "not a real question" because this looks like just a peeve. MS can hardly have copyrighted Base Class Library, and IMHO the implication of Wikipedia including the word "the" is simply to (subtly) make the point that there's nothing saying other companies don't or can't provide similar libraries. Jan 16 '12 at 17:32

There is only one Microsoft, so an article is inappropriate there.

There are so many libraries, I'd rather not try to count. BCL is one of the libraries, and so using the definite article to refer to it is correct, because you are distinguishing it from other libraries.

In fact, a pedant might say that a BCL is more appropriate, because there is more than one (for each version of the .NET framework). I think that would be a step too far and cause more confusion.

  • 1
    There is only one Bank of England, but it is The Bank Of England.
    – slim
    Jan 16 '12 at 11:39
  • But it is a bank, there are plenty of banks. Saying "the bank" does not specify which one. It's like if you prefix Microsoft with company called, there is only one Microsoft, but there are plenty of companies, so you have to say "the company called Microsoft". @slim Jan 16 '12 at 11:57
  • Also, @slim, Bank of England is used by itself. Jan 16 '12 at 12:02
  • I don't follow your logic at all. Look at it the other way: there are hundreds of pubs called "The Rose And Crown". Microsoft doesn't have a "The" because Bill Gates chose to give it a name of that form.
    – slim
    Jan 16 '12 at 12:03
  • 1
    You omit "The" from proper-noun-phrases in lots of sentence forms. I have many Beatles records.
    – slim
    Jan 16 '12 at 12:06

You have to think of BCL not as a word in itself, but as an acronym. Here, the author uses "the" because BCL is a library, so they are specifying that they are talking about the Base Class Library, and not any other library.

  • But Swing is a library (for Java). It's called "Swing" without "The". Yet people are still specifying that they are talking about Swing, and not any other library.
    – slim
    Jan 16 '12 at 11:53
  • But it would be wrong to write "Swing library". You would write "the Swing library". Just as you would write "the Base Class Library".
    – MetaEd
    Jan 16 '12 at 15:03

If you were just saying "included as part of the library", I would ask "which library?". It would be OK to say "part of a library". In this case, BCL is a particular library, so it would be wrong to say "part of a BCL" since it is only one BCL. It is correct to say "part of the BCL" in the same way it is correct to say "he visited the Balfour Library in Oxford".

Although there is only one "Microsoft" it would be wrong to use "the" because it is a name of a company, and it is not referenced as one of many companies. You could technically say "the Microsoft company", but then it would be to emphasize that Microsoft is a company, and you reference it as one of many companies. In this case, Microsoft is just referenced as the owner of the BCL. You would not say "he visited the Balfour Library in the Oxford".

  • so by using "he visited the Balfour Library in Oxford" you are saying that there are also other libraries other than Balfour in the oxford university. correct?
    – jim
    Jan 16 '12 at 9:32
  • Not necessarily (even though in this case it is). What I say is that Balford is one specific library (among other libraries), and that it is located in Oxford (just to be sure to get it right in case there are other libraries in the world that is also called "Balford").
    – awe
    Jan 16 '12 at 9:41
  • ok i think i get it. you also use "the" when you're not sure there are other libraries or not, right? so in my case maybe wikipediya had no idea if there are other libraries like BCL.
    – jim
    Jan 18 '12 at 18:01

When people name things, they choose whether to use "The", set that precedent, and that becomes the rule.

In music: "The New York Philharmonic Orchestra", "The Beatles", "The Pet Shop Boys", "Cream", "Pink Floyd", "Radiohead".

In company names: "The Bank Of England", "The Body Shop", "Microsoft", "MacDonald's"

In computer APIs: "The JCL" (Java Class Library), "The BCL" (Base Class Library), "Underscore", "Swing".

Restaurants, pubs and bars: "The Rose and Crown", "The Basement", "Rosie's", "Zest"

Fictional characters: "Superman", "Spiderman", "The Green Lantern", "The Punisher"

Although there is some nuance to the "The" in all of these -- that New York has only one "official" Philharmonic Orchestra, that (any given version of) .Net only has one Base Class Library -- what's most important is that you stick to the name that the entity has been given. If it was named with a "The" then use it. Otherwise do not.

There is a very common naming structure "The {qualifier} {generic entity type}":

  • The {Base} {Class Library}
  • The {Great Little} {Book Company}
  • The {Body} {Shop}
  • The {New York} {Philharmonic Orchestra}

But it is by no means a firm rule:

  • New England Culinary Institute

Sometimes the commonly used name of an entity changes, either by popular use, or by the influence of the name's "owner", or by a combination of the two. For example:

  • I have an account at The National Westminster Bank
  • I have an account at The Natwest (due to a branding exercise in the 1970s/1980s)
  • I have an account at Natwest (due to a further branding exercise in the 1980s/1990s)

Names without a "The" feel more friendly, since they form part of the same sentence structures as first names, as if you are referring to a friend.


I'm afraid that the does not really have a definition. Article usage in English is very arbitrary and idiomatic, and depending on definitions is usually a mistake for an English learner, since a large part of English article use is some kind of exception to the rules.

For instance, in English one dials the wrong number, not a wrong number. This is discussed here at greater length in this answer.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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