If English is not your first language and depending on your first language, articles can be one of the last grammar items in English that begin to come "naturally." This is because many languages don't have articles as noun markers.
There are two different types of articles, definite and indefinite.
The word the is a definite article. It refers to one or more specific things. For example, the woman refers to not any woman but a particular woman. The definite article the is used before singular and plural count nouns.
The words a and an are indefinite articles. They refer to one nonspecific thing. For example, a woman refers to any woman, not a specific, particular woman. The indefinite article a or an is used before a singular count noun only.
Definite Articles (The) and Indefinite Articles (A/An)
- I saw the concert. (singular, refers to a specific concert)
- I saw the concerts. (plural, refers to more than one specific concert)
- I saw the U2 concert last night. (singular, refers to a specific concert)
- I saw a concert. (singular, refers to any nonspecific concert)
- The research conducted recently shows an increase in global average temperatures. (noncount/collective, refers to specific research)
Three Article Rules – Reminders
The following rules will help to determine when and what kind of article needs to be used.
Rule 1: A singular count noun needs an article or a determiner (see "Count/Noncount Nouns"). Choose a or an if the noun is indefinite. Choose the if the noun is definite
Rule 2: A plural or non-count noun does not take an article unless the plural or non-count noun is definite.
Rule 3: For indefinite articles, use "a" before nouns that begin with consonant sounds but "an" before nouns that begin with vowel sounds.
Say the noun aloud to determine whether it should take "a" or "an." Some words, such as eucalyptus, begin with a letter that is a vowel, but the first sound you make is actually a consonant sound (y with a schwa). This rarely, if ever, happens with a word that begins with a consonant.
It is common to hear people say or write "an historical." This is incorrect in American English because we pronounce the hard "h" sound when we say historical. So in the U.S., "a" should be used before historical. In places where the "h" is silent so the first sound is a short "i," "an" should be used. This video explains it further.
On a separate sheet of paper, write the correct article in the blank for each of the following sentences. Write OK if the sentence is correct.
1. (A/An/The) camel can live for days without water. ________
2. I enjoyed (a/an/the) pastries at the Bar Mitzvah. ________
3. (A/An/The) politician spoke of many important issues. ________
4. I really enjoyed (a/an/the) actor’s performance in the play. ________
5. (A/An/The) goal I have is to run a marathon this year. ________
Correct the misused or missing articles and rewrite the paragraph.
Stars are large balls of spinning hot gas like our sun. The stars look tiny because they are far away. Many of them are much larger than sun. Did you know that a Milky Way galaxy has between two hundred billion and four hundred billion stars in it? Scientists estimate that there may be as many as five hundred billion galaxies in an entire universe! Just like a human being, the star has a life cycle from birth to death, but its lifespan is billions of years long. The star is born in a cloud of cosmic gas and dust called a nebula. Our sun was born in the nebula nearly five billion years ago. Photographs of the star-forming nebulas are astonishing.
Articles in Proper Nouns
Sometimes articles can be confusing when they are used as part of a Proper Noun. Why would an article (especially the definite article, the), be used when the title of a proper noun already indicates a specific one. The answer to this is complicated. Many times, when what would normally be a common noun is the last word in a proper noun, "the" is used as part of the proper noun. Here are some examples:
- the Empire State Building
- the Chrysler Building
- the Eiffel Tower
- the Golden Gate Bridge
- the United States (or the U.S.)
Table 12.10 -- Categories of Proper Nouns that Take "the"
|Government bodies||the Congress, the Senate|
|Historical periods||the Restoration, the Pleistocene era|
|Religious texts||the Talmud, the Quran, the Bible|
|Landmarks||the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon|
|Large bodies of water||the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea|
|Points on the globe||the Equator, the South Pole|
|Deserts, forests, gulfs, peninsulas, and mountain rangers||the Sierra Nevadas, the Gobi Desert|
Contributors and Attributions
CC LICENSED CONTENT, SHARED PREVIOUSLY:
- Adapted from College ESL Writers: Applied Grammar and Composing Strategies for Success. Authored by: Barbara Hall and Elizabeth Wallace. Provided by: GALILEO Open Learning Materials. License: CC BY-NC-SA (3.0): Attribution.Image of Neon "Ouf!":
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED CONTENT:
- Articles (a, an, the) - Lesson 1 - 7 Rules for Using Articles Correctly - English grammar. Authored by: Learn English Lab. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
This page was most recently updated on June 8, 2020.