Wednesday, 15 February 2012



General | A/an | The | No article


First the good news:There are only three articles in English: a, an and the.
There are two types of articles indefinite 'a' and 'an' or definite 'the'.You also need to know when not to use an article.
The bad news is that their proper use is complex, especially when you get into the advanced use of English. Quite often you have to work it out by what soundsright, which can be frustrating for a learner.

Indefinite articles - a and an (determiners)

A and an are the indefinite articles. They refer to something not specifically known to the person you are communicating with.
A and an are used before nouns that introduce something or someone you have not mentioned before:-
For example: "I saw anelephant this morning."
"I ate a banana for lunch."
A and an are also used when talking about your profession:-
For example: "I am anEnglish teacher."
"I am a builder."


You use a when the noun you are referring to begins with a consonant (b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y or z), for example, "a city", "a factory", and "a hotel".
You use an when the noun you are referring to begins with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u)
Pronunciation changes this rule. It's the sound that matters, not the spelling.

If the next word begins with a consonant sound when we say it, for example, "university" then we use a. If the next word begins with a vowel sound when we say it, for example "hour" then we use an.

We say "university" with a "y" sound at the beginning as though it were spelt "youniversity".
So, "auniversity" IS correct.

We say "hour" with a silent h as though it were spelt "our".
So, "anhour" IS correct.

(Lots of people get this wrong - including native speakers.)

Definite Article - the (determiners)

There are two ways to pronounce "the". One "thuh" and the other "thee". To learn when we use them see the pronunciation files: How to pronounce "the".
Strong pronunciation sound thee sound Weak pronunciation sound tho sound

You use thewhen you know that the listener knows or can work out what particular person/thing you are talking about.
For example: "The apple you ate was rotten."
"Did you lock the car?"
You should also use the when you have already mentioned the thing you are talking about.
For example: "She's got two children; a girl and a boy. Thegirl's eight and the boy's fourteen."
We use the to talk about geographical points on the globe.
For example: the North Pole, the equator
We use theto talk about rivers, oceans and seas
For example: the Nile, the Pacific, theEnglish channel
We also use thebefore certain nouns when we know there is only one of a particular thing.
For example: the rain, the sun, the wind, the world, the earth, the White House etc..
However if you want to describe a particular instance of these you should use a/an.
For example: "I could hear the wind." / "There's a cold wind blowing."
"What are your plans for the future?" / "She has apromising future ahead of her."
The is also used to say that a particular person or thing being mentioned is the best, most famous, etc. In this use, 'the' is usually given strong pronunciation:
For example: "Harry's Bar is the place to go."
"You don't mean you met the Tony Blair, do you?"
!Note - Thedoesn't mean all:-
For example: "The books are expensive." = (Not all books are expensive, just the ones I'm talking about.)
"Books are expensive." = (All books are expensive.)


No article

We usually use no article to talk about things in general:-
Inflation is rising.
Peopleare worried about rising crime. (Note! People generally, so no article)
You do not use an article when talking about sports.
For example: My son plays football.
Tennis is expensive.
You do not use an article before uncountable nouns when talking about them generally.
For example: Information is important to any organisation.
Coffee is bad for you.
You do not use an article before the names of countries exceptwhere they indicate multiple areas or contain the words (state(s), kindom, republic, union). Kingdom, state, republic and union are nouns, so they need an article.
For example: No article - Italy, Mexico, Bolivia, England
Use the - the UK (United Kingdom), the USA (United States of America), theIrish Republic
Multiple areas! theNetherlands, the Philippines, theBritish Isles

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English Articles

In English, knowing when to use 'a' or 'the' can be difficult. Fortunately, there are rules to help you, but you need to know what type of noun you are using.

Grammar rule 1

When you have a single, countable English noun, you must always have an article before it. We cannot say "please pass me pen", we must say "please pass me the pen" or "please pass me a pen" or "please pass me your pen".
Nouns in English can also be uncountable. Uncountable nouns can be concepts, such as 'life', 'happiness' and so on, or materials and substances, such as 'coffee', or 'wood'.

Grammar rule 2

Uncountable nouns don't use 'a' or 'an'. This is because you can't count them. For example, advice is an uncountable noun. You can't say "he gave me an advice", but you can say "he gave me some advice", or "he gave me a piece of advice".
Some nouns can be both countable and uncountable. For example, we say "coffee" meaning the product, but we say "a coffee" when asking for one cup of coffee.

Grammar rule 3

You can use 'the' to make general things specific. You can use 'the' with any type of noun – plural or singular, countable or uncountable.
"Please pass me a pen" – any pen.
"Please pass me the pen" – the one that we can both see.

"Children grow up quickly" – children in general.
"The children I know grow up quickly" – not all children, just the ones I know.

"Poetry can be beautiful"- poetry in general.
"The poetry of Hopkins is beautiful" – I'm only talking about the poetry Hopkins wrote.

More uses of articles in English

Rivers, mountain ranges, seas, oceans and geographic areas all use 'the'.
For example, "The Thames", "The Alps", "The Atlantic Ocean", "The Middle East".

Unique things have 'the'.
For example, "the sun", "the moon".

Some institutional buildings don't have an article if you visit them for the reason these buildings exist. But if you go to the building for another reason, you must use 'the'.
"Her husband is in prison." (He's a prisoner.)
"She goes to the prison to see him once a month."

"My son is in school." (He's a student.)
"I'm going to the school to see the head master."

"She's in hospital at the moment." (She's ill.)
"Her husband goes to the hospital to see her every afternoon."

Musical instruments use 'the'.
"She plays the piano."

Sports don't have an article.
"He plays football."

Illnesses don't have an article.
"He's got appendicitis."
But we say "a cold" and "a headache".

Jobs use 'a'.
"I'm a teacher."

We don't use 'a' if the country is singular. "He lives in England." But if the country's name has a "plural" meaning, we use 'the'. "The People's Republic of China", "The Netherlands", "The United States of America".

Continents, towns and streets don't have an article.
"Africa", "New York", "Church Street".

Theatres, cinemas and hotels have 'the'.
"The Odeon", "The Almeira", "The Hilton".

Abbreviations use 'the'.
"the UN", "the USA", "the IMF".

We use 'the' before classes of people.
"the rich", "the poor", "the British".

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