Should You Capitalize “The” Before Country Names?


The decision of whether to capitalize the word “the” in front of a country name can be a tricky one for a couple of reasons.

First, you will likely see capitalization used in different ways depending on who is writing and where the writing appears. Second, there isn’t one consistent rule you can follow that will always give you the right answer.

However, if you just understand two small details, you will be able to work out whether (and when) you should capitalize “the” in a country name. Let’s start with the main question.

Pluralized Country Names Don’t Get a Capital “The”

As a general rule, you won’t want to capitalize “the” before a country name. Most pluralized country names go uncapitalized unless they happen to begin a sentence:

One fascinating thing about the Netherlands is that you can bike almost anywhere.

I spent a weekend observing wildlife in the Solomon Islands.

The weather in the United Kingdom isn’t as bleak as people tend to think.

However, when “the” is the first word in a sentence, it is capitalized as usual:

The United States has a huge Olympic training facility.

The Philippines is worth a visit for the food alone.

Neither the United States nor the Philippines would be capitalized in other instances, but because they are at the beginning of a sentence here, they must be.

Don’t Capitalize “the” With Abbreviations

The same rules apply for abbreviated country names. So, just as you write “the United Kingdom,” you could shorten that to “the UK.” Likewise, “the United Arab Emirates” becomes “the UAE.” There is no need to capitalize the in either case.

Are You on Official Business?

The exception to what we’ve discussed above comes into play when the country in question uses “The” as part of its official name.

For example, The Bahamas is an official name (and thus a proper noun). So, it would always be correct to write “The Bahamas” regardless of where it appears in a sentence.

Only a tiny number of countries incorporate “The” into their official names. When in doubt, just avoid the capitalization unless you know for certain that you need to do so.

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