Articles

Introduction

In this article, we hope you could learn a bit about articles. Articles are a very common and important part of speech. They denote the level of familiarity of the noun to the speaker and the person spoken to, and whether the noun is specific or nonspecific. Articles are not the same in all languages. Whereas some languages do not have any articles and others have only one, English has two of them: the definite article (the), which is used for specific nouns, and the indefinite article (a/an) which is used for nonspecific nouns.

Examples:

  • I can see the sun through the window of my car.
  • A good friend always tells the truth.
  • The doctor told my mother to eat an egg every day.

The Indefinite Article

The indefinite article is used when we speak about things that are nonspecific, general or not known to the person who is spoken to. For example, the phrase “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” does not refer to a specific bird but rather to a general one. The indefinite article is therefore used to present a new thing which has been unknown or unfamiliar to the person who hears or reads the sentence, i.e. the addressee.

Examples:

  • A man walks into a bar.
  • I saw a woman in the street.

The indefinite article comes in two forms: a or an. As a rule, we use a before words starting with a consonant, and an before words starting with a vowel.

Examples:

  • A dog
  • A ball
  • An egg
  • An orange

It is important to note that the article may come before a noun phrase starting with an adjective, adverb or any other word. In this case, the form of the indefinite article is determined by the word that comes immediately after it, regardless of the noun itself.

Examples:

  • A white egg
  • An early visit

Even though we said the form of the indefinite article is determined according to whether the next word starts with a consonant or a vowel, there are a few exceptions: some words start with a silent noun and therefore should be preceded by an, while others start with a vowel but should be preceded by the article a. The determining factor is how the word sounds, not how it looks.

Examples:

  • An honest man
  • An honor
  • A unique person
  • A ukulele

Even more puzzling, some words are pronounced differently by English speakers from different places. For example, Americans pronounce the word “herb” with a silent “h”, while British people do not. Therefore, in the United States it is more common to say “an herb”, while in the United Kingdom the more correct form is “a herb”.

Note that the indefinite article can never appear before plural nouns:

An eggs

Eggs / some eggs

Also, the indefinite article can only appear before countable nouns, and never before uncountable nouns such as water:

A water

Water / some water / a drop of water

The Definite Article

We use the definite article (the) when referring to something that is specific and/or known to both the speaker and the addressee. It can be either a thing that has been discussed earlier or something/someone that is known by everybody.

Examples:

  • The man we met yesterday
  • The Pope
  • The Spanish Inquisition

When Not to Use Articles

Various types of words can never get an article, neither definite nor indefinite. Some proper nouns cannot get an article, such as personal names, most language names and most countries and cities. Notable exceptions are some countries (such as The Philippines, The United Kingdom, The Gambia and The Netherlands). Furthermore, articles cannot be used before possessives.

Examples:

The James was here.

I once flew to the Brazil.

I study the Italian.

The my father is here.

James was here.

I once flew to Brazil.

I study Italian.

My father is here.