Why is the Hague called the Hague with a the in front of it, and is the the capitalized? Also, why does the Chersonese
have the the in front of it? There are several more of these. My guess is that after Hague and Chersonese et. al. there must be an “understood” noun, such as The Hague City, for instance. But this doesn’t clear this mystery up completely.

Well in Dutch it is called ‘Den Haag’ so I guess we just took the straight translation. As to what a ‘Haag’ is, I have no idea. I believe that other posters can give a much clearer picture.

FloChi said: “As to what a ‘Haag’ is, I have no idea. I believe that other posters can give a much clearer picture.”

It must have something to do with ice cream.

(Well, I can hope, can’t I?)


It literally translates to “The Hedge”, referring to an area reserved for hunting for some medieval king or prince.

The The is capitalized. For what it’s worth, I thought the Dutch form was 's Gravenhage (The Count’s Enclosure). Perhaps that’s the long form, and Den Haag is the short form? Let me think. Who do we know who might know this? Think, think, think …

Why ‘the Gambia’, ‘the Soudan’?

Absolutely spot on! I’m impressed. Enclosure… could be. I’d stick with the more literal “hedge”, though.

Also: 's Hertogenbosch (“The Duke’s Forrest”) becomes Den Bosch.

The 's is short for des, an obsolete grammar “fall” (as in the German falls - is that the right term in English?) that implies possesion. In German, 4 “falls” still exist. Dutch only uses two actively (the first and fourth), whereas the second is only used sporadically in archaic expressions and city names.

People who speak German will know what I mean.

Oh, and “The” is most likely capitalised because in Dutch, the “Den” is an integral part of the name, and is thusly written with a capital “D”.

See, I CAN answer an OP, if I really put my mind to it :slight_smile:

Coldfire, the english word you are looking for is “case”. German has four cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative. The case that implies possession is the genitive case.

Case! That’s it. Thanks, Arnold. Die Zweite Falle, if I’m not mistaken. Or is it Faelle?

Each has their own reason, along with the Ukraine, the Argentine (a largely obsolete term), the Levant, etc.

A lot of them are because we got the name from French, which tends to put articles on names where English would generally drop it. However, the Ukraine was from Russian meaning the borderlands. I believe Cecil discussed the origin of The Bronx in one of his columns (which I am too lazy to hunt down right now). Another US place (also due to partial translation from French) is The Dalles, OR.

Thanks. Never heard of ‘the Argentine’ before. You’re quite right in saying that French usually uses the article (although not systematically). As far as Gambia and Soudan are concerned, I don’t think this was a factor, however.

As for the Bronx, IIRC it comes from the name of a wealthy turn-of-the-century family called Bronc who lived in that burrough at the time. People invited to their numerous parties and social functions would say that they were going to the Broncs. The name stuck.

Cecil Adams: Why is the Bronx called THE Bronx?

In Spanish, you may hear “La Argentina” and “El Peru”, but it’s not a given.

You do have to say “El Salvador”. Someone really got on my case here once when I asked why. The reason was that “El” is part of the official name of the country.

Regarding Ukraine: when the U.S.S.R. broke up and Ukraine declared itself a country, they announced that they did not want the article used (in English, at least). At the time of the announcement, part of the reason given was that the article “the” indicated an inferior or subjugated position. (I’m not sure how that works since the Russian language does not even have articles–I don’t know whether Ukrainian has articles, or not–but I saw no reason to challenge Ukrainians on their preferences.)

The Ukraine = dependent state of Russia or the U.S.S.R.

Ukraine = current independent country.

Der Fall, die Fälle / Faelle.

It should have been Coldy or me. Ten points for bibliophage.

Addendum to 's Hertogenbosch: This is the only official name for this city. Both 's Gravenhage and Den Haag are official. (Highway signs display Den Haag and 's Hertogenbosch.)

Addendum to the French using the article: They do use it systematically. For instance la France, le Danmark, les Etas-Unis. Why some countries are considered male or female, now that’s something I’d like to know.

I always thought the Soudan was from French, but I could easily be wrong. My next guess would be that it’s from Arabic, which uses the article on names even more than French does.

Sudan’s official name translates into English as “Republic of the Sudan”

However, the official name is in Arabic so I’m not sure if my source is translating that language correctly into English.

Sudan comes from the Arab ‘al-Sudan’, so that would explain the article.


I assume you are referring to proper nouns, because French systematically puts an article (le or la) before a common noun to distinguish the masculine and feminine forms.


Guess I was half right for the Bronks:).

Isn’t there a city in Oregon called The Dulles or something like that?