Thursday, June 01, 2006

By THE Sea, By THE Sea

Q. Why do some geographical features use the definite article (the Carp River) and others don’t (Lake Michigan)?

A. There may be exceptions, but the following observations generally hold:

Rivers, (the Carp River) canals (the Erie Canal) oceans (the Pacific Ocean), seas (the Sargasso Sea), groups of mountains (the Rocky Mountains), groups of islands (the Hawaiian Islands), a country composed of smaller divisions (the United States), deserts (the Sahara Desert), and place names containing the word of (the Bay of Fundy) usually take THE.

Countries (Canada), states (Michigan), harbors (Good Harbor), creeks (Shalda Creek), bays (East Bay), ponds (Walden Pond), islands (Mackinac Island), mountains (Mount Ranier), parks (Grant Park), counties (Leelanau County), and provinces (Nova Scotia) normally do not take THE.

Notice that the definite article in these instances is written in lower case. An exception would be if the definite article is the first word in a sentence. There, it is capitalized not because it is part of the name, but because of the rule that says you must capitalize the initial letter in a sentence.

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