Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
English language learners and even native speakers get confused over using a, an and the articles in English grammar. You would be surprised to know that the rules regarding using an article before a noun are simple. Find out about them below.
Why is it that I saw a rainbow is correct and not I saw an rainbow?
And if that isn’t driving you bonkers, the following sentence has “the” in front of the rainbow, instead of “a”!
The rainbow I saw today was beautiful! What are the a, an, the article rules? How to use a, an, the articles in English grammar? If you are going through the dilemma of choosing between the articles to make meaningful sentences, just sit back and read this blog. You will get insightful answers to all your questions regarding the use of a, an, the articles in English.
What is an article?
An article in grammar is a word that modifies a noun in English. It points out or refers to the noun in a sentence. Articles are an important part of sentences, therefore, you should know where to place them.
Types of articles
You come across three articles used in the English language; a, an and the.
A and an are indefinite articles.
The is a definite article.
Difference between definite and indefinite articles
Before we dive into the use of a, an and the articles, we have to understand the two types of articles:
- definite: the
- indefinite: a, an
Definite Article: the
Is ‘the’ an article in grammar? Many English learners do ask this question while studying a, an, the articles in English grammar. When referring to specific nouns, the definite article “the” is employed.
The cat is on the mat.
The car is parked in the garage.
The Australian embassy is located on the next road.
The nouns mentioned in the sentences above: cat, mat, car, garage, Australian, road: are specific. It means they are a specific noun being referred to in the sentence.
Indefinite articles : a, an
Indefinite articles are used to speak about a noun in a non-specific way. It can be any noun in general.
A man just crossed that bridge.
A significant event in history has long-term consequences.
In the sentences above, the nouns man and event are not specific i.e. they do not refer to a particular noun.
Indefinite articles with uncountable nouns
A concept that many need help to grasp quickly in English is using indefinite articles with uncountable nouns.
Uncountable nouns are names of materials, objects, and liquids that cannot be seen as separate objects.
You cannot use indefinite articles or even numbers with uncountable nouns.
However, exceptions exist when we limit the uncountable noun for a specific purpose.
I want you to have a healthy perspective on your responsibilities.
Can I have three coffees, please?
Can you recommend a good hair oil?
When to use a/an, the and no article?
To understand the use of a, an, the articles, a firm grasp over the a, an, the article rules is necessary.
We can use a/an before countable nouns when we aren’t being specific about the noun.
‘A’ is usually placed before a noun that starts with a consonant, and “An” is placed before a noun that begins with a vowel.
A bird just flew over my head.
I dropped an egg on the floor.
The is employed to indicate that the noun is known to the reader.
After much thought, we decided to go ahead and buy the Samsung TV.
The Prime Minister visited several countries in the past two months.
The class teacher was unsure about getting the children to complete their assignments.
Uses of “the”
Since “the” is used to denote one specific noun, it is also used with the superlative adjective.
Shaun is the tallest boy in the class.
Mt. Everest is the highest mountain in the world.
The is also used to talk about musical instruments.
I have always wanted to play the drums
Do you play the piano?
The denotes a specific quality of plural nouns.
The lion is a dangerous animal.
The heart pumps blood for the body.
When do I not need an article?
We do not use an article when referring to a group.
- Example: Whales are an endangered species.
With uncountable nouns in a general context.
- Example: Water is essential for life.
Names of people, books, and movies (unless it is part of the title)
- Example: Stranger Things is my all-time favourite series.
Geographical locations and features
- Example: Lake Bikal is the deepest freshwater lake in the world.
Sports, games and meals
- Example: Call of Duty is every gamer’s delight.
What are the exceptions of choosing a or an?
You cannot say, “I will meet you in a hour.”
The correct way of using an article in the sentences above is, ” I will meet you in an hour.”
If the noun starts with a vowel sound, you place “an” before it.
Similarly, “It is a honour to receive this award” is incorrect. The correct statement is, “It is an honour to receive the award.”
Also, when the first letter is a vowel but makes a consonant sound in certain words, “a” is used instead of “an”.
The child wants a unicorn toy.
The letter “u” in unicorn phonetically gives the sound of “y”; therefore, “a” is placed before it.Observe that in the sentence, “I saw a one-legged man today,” the letter “o” gives the sound of “w”, so “a” is placed before the noun and not “an”.
Important tips for using articles in English grammar
A, an, the articles in English grammar can be mastered quickly through the following tips.
Use the correct order
The correct order for using an article is: article + noun or article + adjective + noun.
a big kitchen
a grey elephant
Study the noun
To determine the article for a noun, study it first. For example, use ‘a/an’ if it is a general noun, not indicating a specific person, place or thing.In the case of a specific noun, use ‘the’ in front of the noun.
Do a sound check
The most effective strategy to use a, an the articles is to pay attention to the sound of the first letter of the noun. Say the noun out loud, at least in your head, to figure out whether it requires a or an.
I want to have an omelette.
I want to have a cheese-filled omelette.
He goes to a university in Australia.
You are late by an hour.
Omit articles for capitals, languages, standard names of places and a person’s name
I speak French fluently, but I have difficulty speaking German.
New Delhi is the capital of India
I went to Madrid last summer.
Stacy likes to sing and dance.
Employ “the” with grouped place names
She has been studying in the UK for the past two years.
The People’s Republic of China is the third largest country in the world.
Avoid articles before abstract concepts.
We usually drop the articles when speaking about abstract ideas or emotions. However, remember that if the noun refers to something general, the article is not needed before it.
I want to go out for lunch today.
Friendship is precious in life.
Creativity has to be nurtured.
The Japanese team exhibited sportsmanship in the FIFA match.
Avoid articles with uncountable nouns used in a general context.
Uncountable nouns talk about a group or something that cannot be quantified.
Sugar is terrible for your teeth.
I am studying Economics at college.
We can go out for coffee.
Use “the” with uncountable specific nouns.
When referring to a specific uncountable noun, the article “the” is used in English.
Drink the water I got for you.
The shampoo you got for me smells terrific.
The oil in the yellow can has a weird smell.
Examples of the Use of Articles
Before moving to the a, an, the articles exercises, let us go through a few more examples to understand a, an, the articles rules.
- It was a great experience working for this company.
- She is a doctor
- My uncle was a scientist.
- Can you hear a child crying?
- What a shame that you didn’t get the award.
- I have bought a new car.
- What an excellent meal you cooked the other day for us.
- The average lifespan of an Asian elephant is 48 years.
- I will meet you in an hour.
- He works in an office close by.
- Many people have applied for an American citizenship this year.
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
- The United Arab Emirates is made up of 7 independent city-states.
- The guitar is a beautiful instrument.
- The Nazis harmed a sizeable population of Europe through their acts.
- He received the Best Actor Award last year.
- The red car is not parked outside today.
A, an, the articles exercises
Here are a few a, an, the articles exercises to help you test yourself. All the best!
A. Would you like cup of coffee?
B. Can we go to Gilbert Zoo to see tiger?
C. I see Sam every day in my English class.
D. My uncle has horse that he rides every weekend.
E. Question number 5 was easy question.
F. To be honest person, one should never lie.
G. Skiing in Alps is dream of mine.
H. We have to be at airport by 7 p.m.
I. Many believe money is most important thing in life.
J. She gave me umbrella as it was going to rain.
A. Would you like a cup of coffee?
B. Can we go to the Gilbert Zoo to see a tiger?
C. I see Sam every day in my X English class.
D. My uncle has a horse that he rides every weekend.
E. Question number 5 was an easy question.
F. To be an honest person, one should never lie.
G. Skiing in the Alps is a dream of mine.
H. We have to be at the airport by 7 p.m.
I. Many believe X money is the most important thing in life.
J. She gave me an umbrella as it was going to rain.
Once you get the basics right, cracking the English language tests or becoming fluent in the language might be relatively easy. And getting the hang of a, an, the articles in English grammar is a solid step towards it. Edulyte's English tutors create innovative strategies to help you sail through your language learning. Get in touch with us to know how we can assist youNeed help!
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Frequently Asked Questions
Articles a and an are easy once you understand their rules.
Article a is to be used before a singular noun beginning with a consonant sound)
Article and is to be used before a singular noun starting with a vowel sound)
An article is a word that modifies a noun. It indicates that a noun is a noun without describing it.
We have got a dog.
Life should be seen as an adventure.
The ( definite article) is used with a noun when the noun is known to the reader. The indefinite article (a, an) is used before a noun when the identity is unknown.
The article "a" is used for a noun in a general context.
A man is standing next to your car.
When was the last time we went on holiday?
We use article A for a noun when the noun starts with a consonant sound.
You should wait for a day to feel the effects of the medicine.
It is better to skip articles when referring to:
* countries (unless it is a grouped name),
* a person's name,
* an abstract concept in general.
The two types of articles are definite and indefinite.
Definite article: the
Indefinite article: a, an
A confusing question indeed, but one which has a straightforward explanation!
* If the noun starts with a consonant sound, place "a" before it.
* If the noun begins with a vowel sound, place "an" with it.
* The word "hour" starts with the consonant "h", but it gives the vowel sound of "a".
* Therefore, the correct article is "an" and not a for the word hour.
It is a rule of English grammar that nouns that start with a vowel sound should have the article "an" with them for the noun being referred to in a general context.
A and an are called indefinite articles.
It is an 8, as the starting sound of the number 8 is a vowel sound.
The general rule regarding English grammar articles is that 'a' precedes a consonant word, while 'an' precedes a vowel word. So, for example, h is a consonant word; hence it is grammatically correct to say ' a hotel.
The term zero articles refer to noun phrases requiring no definite or indefinite articles.
There are two types of articles:
* definite: the
* indefinite: a, an
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