Articles

The Articles

ARTICLES

Topic Introduction:

“Article” as a general term has several dictionary meanings: ‘a piece of writing about a particular subject’, ‘a separate item in a contract or deed’, ‘a particular item or a separate thing in a set of things’, but here it is …

The ‘Articles’ in English grammar are: a or an and  the.

Using these three words is one of the most difficult tasks in English grammar.  Luckily, however, most mistakes we make in the use of these three little but important words do not make much difference to the meaning of most of the sentences.  There are however certain situations where using or not using the articles may make a lot of difference. Therefore, knowing some of the important rules will enable the learners to use them correctly.

Though it is usually possible to understand a sentence or expression without any articles, it is always better to use them correctly.

“A” and “An” are called ‘Indefinite Articles’ and “the” is called ‘Definite Article’. When we use ‘a/an’ we mean “one” or “some” and when we use ‘the’ we mean “the same”, the one that is mentioned before.

e.g.  There is a man standing at the gate.

(= some man, we do not know or do not recognise that man)

The man is wearing a long coat.

(= the same man we see at the gate)

The article ‘a’ or ‘an’?

In English grammar, it is not normal to use the word ‘a’, which can mean ‘one’, before a vowel (a,e,i,o and u, and the silent ‘h’), so before vowels, the article ‘a’ changes to ‘an’:

e.g.  a car   an elephant    a house     an ice-cream     a boy     an old car    an hour
*Note that the changes in the spelling and pronunciation of the articles depend on the pronunciation of the words that follow the articles, but not on their spelling alone, because though some words begin with vowels, they do not give out vowel sounds, for example, though the word “university” begins with a ‘u’, a vowel, it is not pronounced with the same sound it has in the word ‘uncle’, therefore, while using an article before it, we use ‘a’ but not ‘an’.  And some words beginning with consonants (-,b,c,d,-,f,g,(h),-,j,k,l,m,n,-,p,q,r,s,t,-,v,w,x,y,z) give out vowel sounds!
e.g.  a university     a one-man army     but        an ox       an MP

(but a Member of   Parliament) a young man     a useful thing

but an honest woman      an heir  [the ‘h’ in these words is silent]

a European        a horse     [the ‘h’ in this word is pronounced]

**Even as plain letters some consonants of the English alphabet take “an” before them because they have the vowel sound in them:

an A, a B, a C, a D, an E, an F, a G, an H, an I, a J, a K, an L, an M,

an N,  an O, a P, a Q, an R, an S, a T, a U, a V,  a W, an X,  a Y, a Z

 

The article ‘the’ (with an ‘e’ sound) or ‘the’ (with an ‘a’ sound)?

The article ‘the’ is pronounced with an ‘e’ sound when used before words beginning with a vowel having vowel sound, and with an ‘a’ sound when used before words beginning with a consonant having consonant sound:

e.g.  the ice age  (‘e’ sound); the egg-case  (‘e’ sound);

but  the beach  (‘a’ sound);   the school  (‘a’ sound)

Articles : the basic information

Articles are members of a group of words called “determiners” that are used before nouns.  Other determiners are Possessive Pronouns such as ‘my, your, his, her, etc.; the Demonstrative Adjectives such as ‘this, that, these, some, any’, etc.

Two determiners cannot usually be used together. So it is not possible in English to say: ‘the my uncle’ or ‘the that house’. Therefore, we say either “the uncle” or “my uncle” and “the house or your house” depending on the context.

*Note also that writing “an other” (with a space between ‘an’ and ‘other’) is not correct, and we cannot say “the another” for the simple reason that two articles are not used together ( ‘the’ and ‘an’).  Instead we say ‘the other’ or another.

**Note that article ‘a’ is usually not used before Proper Nouns (names of particular people, places or things); however, we do use ‘a’ before Proper Nouns on two occasions:

1. ‘a’ is used before the name of an artist when referred to his/her work (picture or   painting),

e.g.  The painting on that wall is a Picasso!

[= the painting is the work of one of the greatest artists called Picasso]

2. when it is used to show that the person you are talking about is not known to you, he/she is a stranger to you,

e.g.  A Mr. John wants to see you.

[= the person speaking does not know who this particular Mr. John is,so to let   the listener understand that the speaker does not know the visitor, he/she uses the article ‘a’ before the Proper Noun “Mr. John”]

***Another important point to note is the use of the definite article “the” before a proper noun.  The rule says that articles are not used before a proper noun, and that proper nouns do not take plural forms, which means we cannot or should not   say: “Johns, Marys or Oxfords”, and should not say: “The John, the Mary or the Oxford”.

Nevertheless, there is an exception to this rule!  We can use or rather should use the definite article ‘the’ and the plural form to any person’s name when we want to include the entire family of that particular person.

e.g.   I’m inviting the Johns to my birthday party.

[= the speaker is inviting not only Mr. John but also his wife and children, the whole lot of the family]

But an ‘s’ to the proper noun with an apostrophe  () is used when we want to say abut the things a person has:

John’s car; Mary’s handbag

Position of Articles:

In any sentence or expression, articles and the other determiners usually come first in a “noun group”:  e.g.

the last few days

a very nice present

last few days = a noun group — article the is used

very nice present = a noun group — article a is used

*Note, however, that some words, such as ‘such’, ‘all’, ‘both’, ‘rather’, ‘quite’, ‘exactly’, ‘just’, ‘what’, and ‘much’, can come before articles in a ‘noun group’:

all the time                                      quite a nice time

all the time = article the comes after the word ‘all’

quite a nice time =  article a comes after the word ‘quite’

{‘the all time’, is wrong; however, ‘the all time record’ or ‘the all-time record list’ or ‘the all time hit album’ may be used to refer to something that is the best}

**There is also a special construction with “as”, “how”, “so” and “too” in which an Adjective may come before an article:

e.g.  It is too nice a day to waste watching TV; let’s go out.  [‘nice’ is an adjective]

The use of articles:

The use of articles depends on three different points:

1.  First point — The article we use must go with the noun that follows.

Countable Nouns = things that we can count, including people, animals, plants and things: boy, car, dog, egg, fan, gun, house, etc.

In this group we have Singular and Plural:

Singular Noun Plural Noun

boy                                             boys

school                                         schools

man                                            men

With the Singular Countable Nouns we use the indefinite article ‘a/an’:

e.g.  a boy            a car           an egg

But with the Plural Countable Nouns we do not use the indefinite article, but use the definite article:

e.g.  the boysthe cars, the eggs or use them without any article, depending on  the context.

Uncountable Nouns = things that we cannot or do not count because they are too many in number or we do not need to count them:

e.g.  sugar – we do not count the grains in sugar, instead we say ‘a kilo of sugar’ or  ‘a bag of sugar’

hair —  we do not count the strands of hair, instead we say ‘a tuft of hair’ (we, however, say ‘a strand of hair’ when we really want to talk about a long length of it)

With the Uncountable Nouns we do not use the indefinite article, but use the definite article:

e.g.  ‘the hair on your head’    ‘the golden sand on the beach’   or use them without any article, depending on the context.

Round up:

There is a boy at the door.   The boy/He wants to see you.

There are some boys at the door.    The boys/Those boys/They want to see you.

There is oil on the floor.     The oil/It spilled from an oil-can.

[in the second sentence, though ‘oil’ is an  uncountable noun, it is used with ‘an’ because we are not talking about the “oil” alone but about the ‘can’ (tin) that has ‘oil’ in it]

2.Second point — The use of articles in our expressions depends on the way we are talking about things.

We talk about things ‘in general’ and things ‘in particular’:

in general’ [non-specific]

e.g.  ‘people’, ‘guitar’, ‘life’, ‘milk’, etc. in general  —

“Milk is a wholesome food.”

“People go about their jobs as usual every morning.”

“Life is meaningless when there is no fun.”

‘in particular’ [specific]

e.g.  “The milk I had this morning was sour.”

The life he has now is not what he wants.”

3.  Third point — When we are talking about some ‘particular things’, our use of an article depends on whether those things are “definite” or “indefinite”.

{Do not confuse these ‘definite’ and ‘indefinite’ with those we use with the articles!}

“definite” = the things or persons the listeners or readers know exactly which ones they are talking about

“indefinite” = the things or persons the listeners or readers did not know before but have come to know just then from the speaker

With the “definite” things or persons we use the definite article ‘the’; but with the “indefinite” things or persons, we use determiners such as ‘a’, ‘some’, or without any article at all.

Here are some examples highlighting some common errors in everyday English:

Common errors —————————     the correct way

Type A:

She is studying to be doctor. (wrong)                 She is studying to be a doctor.

Explanation: In this sentence ‘doctor’ is a “singular countable noun”, and so an indefinite article ‘a’ is to be used.

Children are afraid of a spiders. (wrong)          Children are afraid of spiders.

Explanation: In this sentence ‘spiders’ is a “plural countable noun”, and so an indefinite article ‘a’ is not to be used.

He was wearing a blue trousers. (wrong)           He was wearing blue trousers.

Explanation: In this sentence ‘blue trousers’ is a “plural countable noun”, and so an indefinite article ‘a’ is not to be used.

The word ‘trousers’, though represents a single item of clothing, is always plural in form, and so it is a plural word.  But in normal usage it is used with expressions ‘a pair of trousers’ or ‘some trousers’.  The phrase ‘two pairs of trousers’, however, is plural in expression and form. {see also item (b) of type B}

It’s a nice weather. (wrong)                                     It’s nice weather.

Explanation: In this sentence ‘weather’ is an “uncountable noun”, and so is not to be used with an indefinite article ‘a’.

A water is made of oxygen and hydrogen. (wrong)

Water is made of oxygen and hydrogen.

Explanation: In this sentence ‘water’ is an “uncountable noun”, and so is not to be used with an indefinite article ‘a’.

I have got idea. (wrong)                             I have got an idea.  OR    I have got ideas.

Explanation: In this sentence ‘idea’ is a “singular countable noun”, and so an indefinite article ‘an’ is to be used.

 

Type B:

a) Some nouns can be both ‘countable’ and ‘uncountable’, with different meanings or uses:

e.g.  iron, coffee, tea, etc.

Iron is a metal.    (In this sentence ‘iron’ is an ‘uncountable’ noun, so no article is to be used.)

We need two more irons to press all these clothes.   (In this sentence ‘iron’ is a countable noun representing a device which is made hot representing a device which is made representing a device which is made hot and used to press clothes, and so some article or any other determiner, like ‘two’ in this sentence, is to be used.)

I prefer coffee to tea.    (In this sentence ‘coffee’ is an ‘uncountable’ noun, so no article is to be used.)

Get me a coffee, please.  (In this sentence ‘coffee’ is used in the sense of “a cup of coffee”, therefore an article or some other determiner must be used.)

(‘a coffee’ = a cup of coffee)

 

b) Some plural words have no singular forms though they are taken as one item:

e.g. trousers, scissors, pliers, tweezers, reading glass, etc.

These plural words have no singular forms; they are always plural in form because they have two parts attached together, but they represent only one item (thing). Trousers, for instance, cannot be worn if one part is separated from the pair, and so is the case with ‘scissors’ and ‘pliers’.  Therefore, we use the expressions such as ‘a pair of’, ‘some’, etc., before those words.

Get me a pair of trousers, please.

I need a pair of scissors to cut this piece of cloth.

Get me some scissors to cut this piece of cloth.

The definite article “the” can be used to talk about the trousers or scissors you have already mentioned.

 

c) The definite article ‘the’ is used with some ‘adjectives’ to change them into ‘nouns’ of general kind:

e.g.  poor    rich     crippled    old   —- these are examples of adjective words

the poor     the rich     the cripple   the old —- these are examples of nouns representing ‘all the poor people’   ‘all the rich people’ ‘all the crippled people’ ‘all the old people’ in general

 

d) only the definite article ‘the’ is used before the superlative form of an adjective (degrees of comparison), e.g. ‘the biggest’, ‘the oldest’, ‘the youngest’, etc.  Nevertheless, there are some situations where an indefinite article ‘a’ is used before the superlative form of an adjective:

[According to the traditional grammar rule, we are supposed to use the definite article ‘the’ before the superlative form of an adjective.  However, here we have a classic example showing the article ‘a’ before the superlative form of an adjective by Moshe Riess:

BIRTH AND GROWTH IN EGYPT
The first we hear of Moses is that a man of the tribe of Levi marries a woman of the same tribe. This may the only time that the Torah mention that both parents are of the same tribe. In this to emphasis that despite Moses growing up as an Egyptian he is a Hebrew? They have a son. 1From this it would appear that Moses is a firstborn, but he has an older brother, Aaron, and an older sister, Miriam. Thus Moses appears to be an oldest and a youngest. The Midrash has a different explanation. In Egypt a prophecy …]

_______________

An Important Point To Remember:

The traditional rule says: singular countable nouns must always have an article or some other determiner, such as ‘my’, ‘this’, etc.  We can say “a cat, the cat, this cat, or my cat” but cannot say ‘cat’ without any article!

But there are some exceptions to this rule in regard to expressions with prepositions, such as ‘by car’, ‘in bed’,  etc., to mean “the means of transportation”, “the condition of a person”.

Articles: about things in general

1.  The carrots are my favourite vegetable.   (wrong)     I love the music, the poetry and the art.  (wrong)

It is to be noted that when we want to talk about things in general (for example, in the above given sentences, all carrots or carrots as     a vegetable, and music is all music or any music and poetry is any poetry and art is any interesting art) we usually use a plural or uncountable noun without any article.

[*When we use an article with a plural or uncountable noun, the meaning is not general, but particular.]

Compare the following pairs of sentences:

He likes cars, girls, food and drink.  [without any articles  —  any car or all cars; any good looking girl, etc]

He likes the cars in that garage because they belong to the girls next door.  [with articles  —  those particular cars and those particular girls]

She loves the life.  [with an article  —  (wrong)]

She loves life.   [without any article  —  a very general idea — she loves everything in life]

He is studying life of Alexander the Great.  [without any article  —  (wrong)  the life of the particular person called Alexander]

He is studying the life of Alexander the Great.  [with an article  —  the life of the particular person called Alexander]

We liked music which we heard at the concert last night.

[without any article  —  (wrong)]

We liked the music which we heard at the concert last night.  [with the article ‘the’ is the correct way because we are talking about the particular music which we heard last night, but not any music or music in general]

There are some expressions which are partly general – half-general.  They are general, yet they are limited to a particular time period or a particular area (place); and while talking about them, we use two different ways:

‘…eighteenth-century music’  [correct — without the article ‘the’]

‘…the music of the eighteenth century’  [correct — with the article ‘the’]

‘Asian monkeys…’  [correct —  without the article ‘the’]

‘The monkeys of Asia…’  [correct —  with the article ‘the’]

1. Another way of ‘generalizing’ is to use a singular countable noun with an article.  The indefinite article “a/an” is often used in this way to talk about things in general:

e.g.  A baby deer can stand as soon as it is born.

One should give a child plenty of encouragement.

A healthy society is the one with educated and decent citizens.

The article ‘a’ here is rather like ‘any’.  These sentences would mean almost exactly the same if we used plural nouns with no article:

e.g.  Baby deer can stand as soon as they are born.

[** ‘deer’ has the same spelling in singular and plural form, and in this sentence ‘baby deer’ is used as “plural”. How do we know? = because it is used without the article]

One should give children plenty of encouragement.

2. The definite article ‘the’ is often used in generalization with singular countable nouns, particularly when we are talking about SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY:

e.g.  The whale is a mammal, not a fish.

When talking about ‘musical instruments’:

e.g.  I’d like to learn the guitar.

When talking about ‘cinema and theatre’:

e.g.  She prefers the cinema to the theatre.

(‘the cinema’ = films/movies; ‘the theatre’ = plays/drama, on stage)

Articles: about things in particular:

 

Typical mistakes                                                                  the correct way

Get me book! (wrong) ——————————  Get me a book!

How did you like a film?  (wrong)                                How did you like the film?

I think there is the letter for you.  (wrong)                 I think there is a letter for you.

He’s got the headache.   (wrong)                                   He’s got a headache.

She’s studying to be the dentist.  (wrong)                   She’s studying to be a dentist.

We use ‘the’ with words like ‘sun’, ‘moon’, and the names of ‘rivers’:

e.g.  The Sun rises in the East.     [we know which ‘sun’; we have only one ‘sun’]

We use either ‘some or any’ or ‘without any article’ to express the “indefinite” (generalization) meaning

With uncountable and plural nouns:

e.g.  Would you like some butter?                        They haven’t got any problems.

He wants beer.  [without any article  — general  — not whiskey or brandy, but beer]

He needs some beer.  [with a determiner — general — some quantity]

He needs a beer.  [with the indefinite article ‘a’ —  ‘a bottle of beer’ or ‘a pint of beer’]

We also use ‘a/an’ when we want to say that a person or thing is a member of a particular class or group:

e.g.  My brother is a mechanic.        A sailor is a man who works on ships.

It’s an adjustable bed.

** However, we do not use any article or other determiners with uncountable and plural nouns in this case:

e.g.  “What’s that?”  ~~~~~~   “It is petrol.”   [without any article before an uncountable noun ‘petrol’]

You’re fools!   [without any article before a plural countable noun ‘fools’]

The indefinite article ‘a/an’ is used before singular countable nouns when they are used for the first time in a text or conversation; but the definite article ‘the’ is used before the same singular countable nouns when they are used again in the same text or conversation:

e.g.  A man came up to a policeman and asked him a question.

[‘man’, ‘policeman’ and ‘question’ are used for the first time in this paragraph]

The policeman did not understand the question, so he asked the man to repeat it.

[‘man’, ‘policeman’, and ‘question’ are used for the second time and refer to the same nouns mentioned before]

Articles: special rules and exceptions:

 

  1. 1. When expressing the “possessive case expressions” articles are not normally used when the first word is a ‘proper noun’ (name of a particular person):

e.g.  The John’s car is in the garage. (wrong) [with an article before a proper noun]

A Michael Jackson’s musical night …(wrong)  [with an article before a proper noun]

The correct way is

John’s car is in the garage.    [without an article before a proper noun]

Michael Jackson’s musical night…  [without an article before a proper noun]

*John’s = possessive case of the noun word “John” used to show whose car it is.

  1. 2. When a noun is used as an adjective, qualifying another noun, the article before the first noun is dropped though it is customary to use an article before that particular noun when it is used as a noun:

e.g.  Lessons in how to play the guitar are ‘guitar lessons’.   [the definite article ‘the’ which is compulsory with the first ‘guitar’ is not used with the second ‘guitar’ because the second guitar in this sentence is doing the job of an adjective qualifying “lessons” which is a noun]

  1. 3. Though the definite article ‘the’ is used before certain musical instruments, such as ‘guitar’, ‘piano’, etc., we do not use it before the names of games:

e.g.  We play chess — not the chess; cricket — not the cricket; football — not thefootball, etc.

1. 4. After the words ‘all’ and ‘both’, the article can be used or dropped:

e.g.  All (the) ten students in the class failed to submit the assignment in time.   [article ‘the’ can be used or dropped, without any change in the meaning]

Both (the) children show excellent talent.   [article ‘the’ can be used or dropped]

With the expressions related to ‘time’, we can say ‘all year’, ‘all week’, ‘all day’, ‘all night’, ‘all summer’, ‘all winter’, etc., but not “all hour” or “all century”:

e.g.  They have been waiting for us all day.   [but not “all the day”]

  • Note also the use of the indefinite article before the nouns expressing ‘time’ expressing ‘frequency’:

e.g.  ‘sixty miles an hour’     ‘twenty hours a week’      ‘five days a month’    etc.

  1. 5. Names of ‘illnesses’ are usually uncountable, and therefore, we do not use any articles before them:

e.g.  I think my son has got measles.  [‘measles’ is the name of an illness and so used without an article]

She’s had appendicitis.   [‘appendicitis’ is the name of an illness and so used without an article]

  • very important:  with minor illnesses, such as ‘common cold’ and ‘headache’, we use the indefinite article ‘a’:

e.g.  I’ve got a cold.   I’ve got a headache.

Note that only “headache” takes an article; the rest of the aches  — backache, toothache, earache, etc., do not take any articles.   Nevertheless, some dictionaries recommend the use of the indefinite article “a/an” with all the aches!

  1. 6. Certain numbers written or said in words take the indefinite article ‘a’ before them:

e.g.  ‘a hundred’     ‘a thousand’     ‘a million’, ‘a dozen’, etc.

  1. 7. With the seasons of a year, we can say ‘summer or the summer’.  There is very little difference between the expressions with and without the articles.  {In American English, however, the article ‘the’ is usually used: e.g.  ‘in the summer’.}
  1. 8. The names of positions that people are given, such as ‘captain’, ‘chairman/chairperson’, ‘president’, etc. are used

without articles:

e.g.  My brother was made captain of the college football team.  [‘captain’  — a position — is used without an article]

We elected the senior most member chairman of the committee. [‘chairman’ — a position — is used without an article]

(i) the definite article ‘the’ is used when the name of the position is the subject of the verb, not the complement of the sentence:

e.g.  The chairman of the committee called the members for a meeting.

Compare:

We elected him chairman of the committee.

“Chairman” — the complement of the object ‘him’     [ without an article]

v     (ii) professions or jobs in other cases take the indefinite article before them:

e.g.  She is a doctor.            He is a teacher.               But      ‘They are teachers.

 

9. The singular countable nouns used in “Exclamations” take the ‘indefinite article a/an’ before them, just like in the normal sentences:

e.g.  What powerful bike!  (wrong)   [without an article]

What a powerful bike!   [correct – with an article]

10. The names of ships take the definite article ‘the’ before them:

e.g.  The Queen Mary  — name of a prestigious ship

The voyage of the Beagle  — name of the ship on which Charles Darwin visited the remote plac

11. Some names of places – Geographical areas such as ‘sea’, ‘seaside’ and ‘mountains’  — take the definite article ‘the’ before them:

e.g.  I love the mountains, but I hate the sea.   [any place with mountains; any place with sea and beach]

The word ‘country’ used in the sense of the place away from towns and cities – a peaceful village and the surroundings – take the definite article ‘the’ before it:

e.g.  I’m going to the country for a week.

  • Certain place-names usually take ‘the’ before them:

Geographical points      —-              the North Pole; the equator

Seas and oceans             —-              the Pacific Ocean; the Arabian Sea

Mountain ranges (groups) —-           the Himalayas; the Andes; the Alps

** But names of single mountains usually do not take any article before them:

Mt Everest                 Mt Kilimanjaro                     Mt Abu Simbel

[Mt = mount = mountain]

Island groups                 —-              the West Indies; the Bahamas

Large areas of land        —-              the Middle East; the West

Rivers                            —-              the Thames; the Ganges; the Nile

Deserts                           —-              the Sahara; the Thar; the Gobi

Hotels                            —-              the Sun-n-Sand; the Sheraton

Cinemas and theatres     —-              the Globe; the I-max Theatre

The names of certain places do not take any article before them:

Continents                     —-               Africa; Europe

Lakes                             —-               Lake Superior; Lake Wanaka

Countries                       —-               Germany; Japan; India; Canada

States & towns              —-               Colombo; New York; Beijing; Delhi

Streets                            —-               Baker Street; Wall Street; Beach Road

  • However, there are some names of countries which take the definite article ‘the’ before them:

The People’s Republic of China;  The United Arab Emirates; The USA; The UK

** The Netherlands, and its capital city the Hague

Important

Most of these rules may not be followed by the media – newspapers, TV, etc. particularly in their headlines, so the readers at the basic level must remember that the media has a different way of writing the headlines in order to make them look more attractive or simpler!

12. When we generalize with singular countable nouns, we normally use an article (the telephone or a deer), but with ‘man’ and ‘woman’ used to represent ‘all the men’ and ‘all the women’ in the world in general we do not use any articles:

e.g.  It is believed that man and woman are created for each other.  [without any articles to show that ‘man’ is not ‘any one man’ but ‘all the men’ or  ‘woman’ is not ‘any particular woman’ but ‘all the women’]

A useful titbit:

It is believed that Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the moon, said when he took the first step on the moon:

“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

Here, ‘man’ without an article, and ‘mankind’ mean the same thing.  Therefore, Neil Armstrong should have said:

“That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.” Because ‘a man’ is one individual man, i.e. Neil Armstrong himself!
His taking a small step made the whole mankind take a giant leap in space exploration!!

 

Before concluding this topic, the learners must note an important point:

It is not the end of the topic but only the beginning!

Because…

No one single book or course material can include all the rules and important points on any one particular topic.  There are many, many things one needs to learn.  And one learner may understand a particular point more easily than the other.

It is a matter of a particular learner’s ability that determines the time needed to learn a topic!

Some rules are deliberately avoided in this topic just to give the learner some food for thought.

So, come up with your ‘quarries’ and make learning a lively interactive task.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Articles A, An and The

The article ‘a’ or ‘an’?

In English grammar, it is not normal to use the word ‘a’, which can mean ‘one’, before a vowel (a,e,i,o and u, and the silent ‘h’), so before vowels, the article ‘a’ changes to ‘an’:

e.g. a car an elephant a house an ice-cream a boy an old car an hour

*Note that the changes in the spelling and pronunciation of the articles depend on the pronunciation of the words that follow the articles, but not on their spelling alone, because though some words begin with vowels, they do not give out vowel sound, for example, though the word “university” begins with ‘u’, a vowel, it is not pronounced with the same sound it has in the word ‘uncle’, therefore, when using an article before it, we use ‘a’ but not ‘an’. And some words beginning with consonants (-,b,c,d,-,f,g,(h),-,j,k,l,m,n,-,p,q,r,s,t,-,v,w,x,y,z) give out vowel sounds!

e.g. a university a one-man army but an ox an MP (but a Member of Parliament)

a young man a useful thing but an honest woman an heir [the ‘h’ in these words is silent]

a European a horse [the ‘h’ in this word is pronounced]

**Even as plain letters some consonants of the English alphabet take “an” before them because they have the vowel sound in them:

an A a J an S
a B a K a T
a C an L a U
a D an M a V
an E an N a W
an F an O an X
a G a P a Y
an H a Q a Z
an I an R

The article ‘the’ (with an ‘e’ sound) or ‘the’ (with an ‘a’ sound)?

The article ‘the’ is pronounced with an ‘e’ sound when used before words beginning with a vowel having vowel sound, and with an ‘a’ sound when used before words beginning with a consonant having consonant sound:

e.g. the ice age the egg-case but the beach the school
(‘e’ sound) (‘e’ sound” (‘a’ sound) (‘a’ sound)

Articles – Topic Introduction

“Article” as a general term has several dictionary meanings: ‘a piece of writing about a particular subject’, ‘a separate item in a contract or deed’, ‘a particular item or a separate thing in a set of things’, but here it is:

The ‘Articles’ in English grammar are: a or an and the

Using these three words is one of the most difficult tasks in English grammar. Luckily, however, most mistakes we make in the use of these three little but important words do not make much difference to the meaning of most of the sentences. There are however certain situations where using or not using the articles may make a lot of difference. Therefore, knowing some of the important rules will enable the learners to use them correctly.

Though it is usually possible to understand a sentence or expression without any articles, it is always better to use them correctly.

“A” and “An” are called ‘Indefinite Articles’ and “the” is called ‘Definite Article’. When we use ‘a/an’ we mean “one” or “some” and when we use ‘the’ we mean “the same”, the one that is mentioned before.

e.g. There is a man standing at the gate. (= some man, we do not know or do not recognise that man)
The man is wearing a long coat. (= the same man we see at the gate)