Introduction to grammar


Definite and indefinite articles

What is an article?

In English there are three articles: aan, and the. Articles are used before nouns or noun equivalents and are a type of adjective. The definite article (the) is used before a noun to indicate that the identity of the noun is known to the reader. The indefinite article (aan) is used before a noun that is general or when its identity is not known. There are certain situations in which a noun takes no article.

Basically, articles are either definite or indefinite. They combine to a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun.

  • The definite article is the.
  • The indefinite article is a / an.

The indefinite article a or an:

The article a / an is used when we don't specify the things or people we are talking about:

  • I met a friend.
  • I work in a factory in New York.
  • I borrowed pencil from a passenger sitting next to me.

The indefinite article a is used before a consonant sound:

  • a dog.
  • a pilot
  • a teacher.
  • a university

Although 'university' starts with the vowel 'u', it is not pronounced as such. It is pronounced as a consonant sound /

The indefinite article an is used before a vowel sound:

  • an engineer.
  • an elephant.
  • an athlete

The definite article the:

It's used when the speaker talks about a specific object that both the person speaking and the listener know.

  • The car over there is fast.
  • The president of the United States is giving a speech tonight.

When we speak of something or someone for the first time we use a or an, the next time we repeat that object we use the definite article the.

  • I live in a house. The house is quite old and has four bedrooms.
  • I ate in a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was very good.

No article:

1. Do not use an article with countries, states, counties or provinces, lakes and mountains except when the country is a collection of states such as "The United States".

  • He lives in Washington near Mount Rainier.
  • They live in Northern British Columbia.
  • They climbed Mount Everest.

2. we do not normally use an article with plurals and uncountable nouns to talk about things in general.:

  • He writes books.
  • She likes sweets.
  • Do you like jazz music?
  • She ate bread with butter in the morning.

Countable and uncountable nouns

Using English articles with countable and uncountable nouns may be confusing.

The can be used with uncountable nouns, or the article can be dropped entirely as mentioned above.

  1. "The two countries reached the peace after a long disastrous war" (some specific peace treaty) or "The two countries reached peace after a long disastrous war" (any peace).
  2. "He drank the water" (some specific water- for example, the water his wife brought him from the kitchen) or "He drank water." (any water)

It is unusual to use a/an for uncountable nouns. You can't say "I'd like a milk"

a/an can be used only with countable nouns.

  1. I'd like a piece of cake.
  2. I lent him a book.
  3. I drank a cup of tea.
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