You often hear people on the news say that something happened in The Ukraine, or refer to the president of The Ukraine. Other times, they just say Ukraine. Most countries aren’t preceded by “The”. So what’s going on?
When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, it was referred to as “the Ukraine” because it was a region in a larger country, according to linguists and historians. It would be the equivalent of saying “the Northeast” or “the Rockies” in the United States, said Michael Flier, a professor of Ukrainian philology at Harvard University.
There is a suggestion also that the definite article The precedes Ukraine because of its meaning – borderlands. The argument is that countries named after a geographic feature like a river or desert (or borderland) would be preceded by The like Gambia or Congo. In most cases, though, the official name of the country does not include the article.
Are there countries that actually do officially begin with “the”?
There are a number of countries that are commonly assumed to include the definitive article “the”, including Congo, Gambia, Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan, Netherlands, Philippines, and Bahamas. However, only two of these – The Gambia and The Bahamas officially include “The”. All the others are commonly used, but not correct.
What about the United States?
In writing, country names that contain a plural like States, Islands or Lands are typically preceded by the, but in lowercase. These are not officially part of the country’s name. So, it would be correct to write “Welcome to the United States of America”, or “I visited the (Kingdom of the) Netherlands”, but not “I don’t know where The Marshall Islands are.”