Articles are the small words before nouns. There are three articles:
There are two types of articles in English:
|Indefinite Article||A, An|
The definite article is used before specific nouns. The indefinite article is used before unspecific nouns.
- I need a (Any pen)
- I need the pen on the table. (The specific pen on the table)
- He bought a (A car we don’t know about)
- He bought the car we looked at yesterday. (The specific car)
Each noun in English has an article before it. The type of article depends on the situation and the noun that follows. Sometimes there is no article, called the zero article.
The Definite Article (The)
The definite article is used for specific nouns. What does that mean? These are people, places, and things that are unique. When you talk about a specific noun, you mean one. Not that noun in general. These are some examples:
- The teacher is Canadian. (Mr. Jacobs)
- The bicycle is broken. (His bicycle)
- The dog is in the park. (Our dog)
- Could you pass me the book? (The textbook on the table)
Specific nouns are often things the speaker and listener know about, like these examples:
- I talked to the man we met yesterday.
- I bought the shoes you like.
Specific nouns can be countable and uncountable.
- The book is on the table. (Singular)
- The books are on the table. (Plural)
- The water is on the table.
- The sugar is sweet.
The Indefinite Article (A/AN)
The indefinite article is “a” or “an“. These are used for unspecific, or general, nouns. These are only used when the noun is singular.
- I have a
- She lives in an
- I saw a
The examples are all singular nouns. Remember, “a” means one. When you say “a dog”, you mean one dog.
Therefore, the indefinite article is only for countable nouns. So we can say the following:
- A chair, 15 chairs
- A cat, 8 cats
But we can’t use these:
- A salt
- A sugar
- An information
The indefinite article shows one part of a group:
- I am a student in the class.
- It is a TV show I like.
In both cases, the subject is not the only one. Think about other examples where the subject is not unique or specific.
- I am a doctor. (I am not the only doctor in the world.)
- She is a nice person (She is not the only nice person in the world.)
A vs. An
|Use A before consonant sounds.
Use AN before vowel sounds.
If the word starts with a consonant sound, use “a”.
- A dog
- A man
- A chair
If the next word starts with a vowel sound, use “an”.
- An eagle
- An apple
- An island
Be careful! It is a vowel and consonant sound, not letter. Think about how these sounds affect the article:
- A university (youniveristy)
- A unicorn (younicorn)
- An honest person (onest)
- An hour (our)
This includes abbreviations that start with consonant letters that make vowel sounds (f, h, l, m, n, r, s, x).
- I drive an S.U.V. (S = EssYouVee)
- He is an M.L.B. player. (M = EmElBee)
The Zero Article
Sometimes nouns don’t need “a“, “an“, or “the“. This is called the zero article. Here are some situations where no article is used:
Unspecific Plural Nouns
- I have
- She needs pens.
- Birds are singing.
These unspecific nouns can also be uncountable:
- I need information.
- I bought sugar.
- I have water.
Often these words have quantifiers or numbers, like these examples:
- I have some
- She needs more
- Many birds are singing.
- Three dogs are in the park.
- 25 people went to the party.
- Japan is beautiful. (Countries, cities, etc.)
- I met Susan last week. (People)
- Google is an Internet company. (Companies)
Some proper nouns use “the”. These include geographic locations, like canals, deserts, forests, oceans, rivers, seas, plural islands, or lakes.
- The Amazon River
- The Indian Ocean
- Lake Michigan
Some countries use “the”. These are countries that have plural parts in their name. Notice how these countries have an “s” at the end because they are a collection of plural nouns:
- The United States
- The United Arab Emirates
- Basketball is his favourite sport.
- I love soccer.
- Mathematics is very difficult.
- Geography is my favourite subject.
Days, Months, Years
- I was born in 1982.
- I will see you on Monday.
- My birthday is in July.
Sometimes, you want to talk about one specific store or restaurant. In this case, you can use the definite article. Although McDonald’s the company does not need an article, a specific location does. Take a look at the example:
- McDonald’s is a popular restaurant.
- The McDonald’s on 34th street is always busy.
Articles go before nouns. There are 2 types of nouns:
Do you know the difference between countable and uncountable nouns? Let’s try a quiz first to check:
|Noun||Countable or Uncountable?|
How did you do? Check your answers below:
|Noun||Countable or Uncountable?|
These are nouns that can be counted. Singular countable nouns always need an article.
- I have a (Any book)
- I have the (A specific book)
Plural countable nouns do not need an article when they are unspecific.
- I have books.
Plural countable nouns never use “a”.
- Incorrect: I have a books.
Uncountable nouns are neither singular nor plural. They use “the” or no article.
Unspecific uncountable nouns use no article.
- I have water.
- Freedom is important.
Specific uncountable nouns use “the”.
- I have the water. (The water you gave me)
- The rice is on the table. (The rice I cooked)
Common Article Mistakes
Do not forget the article.
- Incorrect: I saw movie last night at theatre.
- Correct: I saw a movie last night at the
- Incorrect: I bought computer yesterday.
- Correct: I bought a computer yesterday.
Remember this important rule:
|Single, countable nouns need an article.|
When you have a single, countable noun add an article. Like these examples:
- I bought a jacket yesterday. (jacket = countable)
- She has a cat. (cat = countable)
Do not use the indefinite article (a, an) for uncountable nouns.
- Incorrect: An information
- Correct: The information
- Correct: Information
- Incorrect: Could you pass a salt?
- Correct: Could you pass the salt?
Most proper nouns do not need an article.
- Incorrect: The Brazil is in the South America.
- Correct: Brazil is in South America.
Do not forget the article when using a superlative adjective before the noun.
- Incorrect: He is best player on the team.
- Correct: He is the best player on the team.
Adjectives before nouns affect the article.
- An easy test
- A wet umbrella
Don’t mix up general and specific nouns.
- Incorrect: I think the workplace etiquette is important.
- Correct: I think workplace etiquette is important. (in general)
Those are the rules for using articles correctly in English. Are you ready for some tests? Try these: