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There’s a total of 196 countries in the world. Actually, it depends on who you ask, but this is probably the best number you can get.
Among these 196 countries, only a few have the Definite Article “The” before their names.
This means that we don’t say “the France,” “the Malaysia,” “the Spain” etc.
If you look at the US Department of State’s list of countries, it will surprise you to know that in fact only 2 countries officially take “The” with their names!
- The Bahamas
- The Gambia
But aside from these two countries, 8 other countries usually carry “The”:
- The Congo
- The Lebanon
- The Netherlands
- The Philippines
- The Sudan
- The United Kingdom
- The United States of America
- The Yemen
- The easy, general explanation:
Plural names take “The.”
Ex. the Netherlands, the Philippines, the United States etc.
- Names that say something about the country’s political organization. (These names usually have the words “State,” “Kingdom,” and “Republic” in them.)
Ex. the United States, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic etc.
- There’s a link between the name of the country and a geographical feature.
- Groups of islands
Ex. the Bahamas, the Philippines
Ex. the Congo, the Gambia
Ex. the Sudan
- Mountain range
Ex. the Lebanon
- Low countries
Ex. the Netherlands
- A historical regionEx. the Yemen
Note: Please remember that there should be a connection between both the name and the geophysical, and not the geophysical only. Many learners have the habit of imagining their own countries’ geographical feature.
Of course many countries are composed of groups of islands. For example, the Philippines has 3 main islands and more than 7, 000 smaller islands. Japan is also made up of 4 large islands and over 3, 000 smaller ones.
However, we still say "the Philippines" but not “the Japan.”
- Finally, if you use a country’s longer formal name, you need to add “The.”
Ex. The Republic of China (Taiwan)
The Russian Federation (Russia)
The United Mexican States (Mexico)
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma)
The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (East Timor)
The Plurinational State of Bolivia (Bolivia)
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Venezuela)
The United Republic of Tanzania (Tanzania)
The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka)
The Independent State of Samoa (Samoa)
Disclaimer: These are by no means absolute. There are also issues and controversies that are political in nature. Nevertheless, this guide is a very useful tool for English learners.
Hope you learned something!