An explanation of the definite and indefinite articles in English, and how we use them. With example sentences.
What is an article?
Now, we will see a few basic rules so remember the use of indefinite articles or definite articles. Omission of indefinite articles There are few rules for the omission of indefinite articles, Rule #1 Don’t use indefinite articles, ‘a’ or ‘an’, two times in one sentence in case of the same noun. Example, Rumi is a smart and nice girl. Definite and Indefinite Articles. Learning English grammar can take work. There can be a lot of rules, there can be a lot of exceptions, and sometimes, there can be uncertainty. Definite and Indefinite Articles. There are two kinds of articles. Indefinite Articles; Definite Article; Indefinite Articles “A” and “An”are called indefinite articles because they only generalize a noun; as, a student; that means any student. Use of “a” and “an” This is a. What delineates indefinite from definite nouns or articles is something that philosopher Bertrand Russell calls 'uniqueness' in an essay that includes an argument about the role of definite.
Articles are a part of grammar often included in the word class determiner.
In English, there are two articles: the indefinite article, a/an, and the definite article, the.
We use the to refer to something specific, and a/an to refer to something non-specific or general.
For example, if we say, “He’s married to an English woman.”, this could refer to any English woman, we don’t know specific which one he’s married to.
If we say, “He’s married to the English woman.”, we know which specific English woman he is married to.
Indefinite articles: 'a' and 'an'
Let’s have a closer look at the indefinite articles 'a' and 'an'.
'a' and 'an' are used to modify non-specific countable nouns. We don’t use them with plural nouns or uncountable nouns.
- “Let's watch a DVD.” We have more than one DVD we could watch, but we don't yet know which one we will choose.
- “She ate a banana.” There are probably several bananas, but we don't know which specific banana she ate.
- “She read a book.” There are many books, but we don't know which specific one she read.
- “His son really wants a ride in a helicopter for his birthday.” This could be a ride in any helicopter.
- “I’d love to go and see an opera this Christmas.” This is referring to any opera, not a specific opera.
Definite And Indefinite Article Example
'a' and 'an' are also used when we refer to what someone is, or what job they do.
- Here are some examples:
- She’s an airline pilot.
- He's an electrician.
- She's a university student.
- He's a Muslim.
But remember, they are not used with uncountable nouns or plural nouns. For example:
Meaning Of Definite And Indefinite Articles Example
- He likes brown bread (uncountable noun)
- He loves fast cars (plural noun)
We use 'a' before words that start with a consonant or consonant sound. For example:
- a government
- a bird
- a book
- a horse
- a language
- a library
- a university - /ˌjuːnɪˈvɜː(r)səti/
- a European - /ˌjʊərəˈpiːən/
We use 'an' before words that start with a vowel or vowel sound. For example:
- an apple
- an engine
- an English lesson
- an exam
- an honour - /ˈɒnə(r)/
- an hour - /ˈaʊə(r)/
Where the noun is modified by an adjective, you use 'a' or 'an' depending on whether the adjective starts with a consonant or consonant sound, or a vowel or vowel sound.
- a red car
- a terrible accident
- a difficult exam
- an exciting party
- an interesting job
- an action-packed football match
Definite article: 'the'
Now, let’s have a look at definite article ‘the’.
'the' is used to modify specific nouns when it’s clear what is being referred to. It can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns.
- “On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to step on the moon.” We only have one moon, so we know which specific moon is being referred to here.
- “The English course for beginners starts next Tuesday.” A specific English course starts next Tuesday.
- “They were lost in the Sahara Desert for four days.” There is only one Sahara Desert.
- “We went on a boat trip on the Danube.” There is only one Danube river.
- “She sailed solo across the Atlantic.”
- “Can you pass me the hammer and nails, please?”
Examples of the definite article used with uncountable nouns.
- “Who's used all the bread?”
- “The weather has been gorgeous all weekend.”
- “The scenery around our hotel was amazing.”
- 'I don’t have the courage to do a parachute jump.”
Incidentally, according to the Oxford English Corpus, 'the' also happens to be the word that occurs most frequently in written English.
Omission of Articles
Some nouns don't take an article before them. For example, we do not use an article when referring to:
- the names of sports: e.g. hockey, football, tennis, ice-skating, swimming.
- academic subjects: e.g. geography, history, English literature, physics.
- the names of languages and nationalities: e.g. Italian, Chinese, English, French, Mandarin, Polish, Catalan.
Note: If you are referring to the population of a country or nation, an article is used. For example: The French, The Chinese. 'The French are well known for their excellent food.'
- the names of countries, territories or islands: e.g. Holland, Peru, Latvia, New Zealand, Easter Island.
Note: There are some exceptions to this. For example, the US/the United States, the Caribbean, the Philippines, the Netherlands.
- the names of continents: e.g. Africa, Asia, Europe.
- the names of cities or towns: e.g. London, Moscow, Sydney, Athens.
Some languages have complex systems of articles relating to gender, person, number, and case, whereas other languages have no definite or indefinite articles at all.
The English language only has 'a/an' and 'the' to learn and remember so, in theory at least, they should be straightforward to learn and use. Nevertheless, remembering their correct use and non-use can still be quite difficult for learners of English.
We use the indefinite article 'a/an' to talk about something that is not specific or definite.
We use the definite article ‘the’ to talk about something specific.
Indefinite: “I’m going to eat an apple.” This could be any apple, we don’t know which one.
Definite: “I’m going to eat the apple.” We do know which apple I’m going to eat.
If you can remember these two rules, you’re off to a very good start mastering English articles 'a/an' and 'the'.
Articles A-AN-THE definition
The indefinite articles A/AN are used when talking about a general or non-specific noun.
- Where is a teacher?
- A book is on the table.
- Did you bring a cake?
But unlike the definite article, A/AN can only be used with singular countable nouns. We can’t say a teachers, a books, a cakes.
Instead we use the definite article: the teachers, the books, the cakes.
- Where are the teachers?
- The books are on the table.
- Did you bring the cakes?
In English, we use an Off the hook origin. with any noun that starts with a vowel sound, NOT with a noun that starts with a vowel. This is very important because many nouns that start with a vowel don’t have a vowel sound such as university, we say a university NOT an university. Also, many vowel sounding words don’t start with a vowel for example hour, we say an hour.
Below is a list of nouns you can use ‘an’ with:
- an oven
- an apple
- an honor
- an octopus
- an auntie
- an injury
- an umbrella
- an egg
Here is a list of nouns used with A:
- a table
- a pillow
- a university
- a cake
- a bed
- a utopia
Here is a list of nouns used with An:
- an oven
- an orange
- an honour
- an invention
- an hour
- an evening
Here are examples of how we use A and An in a sentence:
- There is a university.
- The movie starts in an hour.
- There is an octopus in the water.
- The new house doesn’t have an oven but it has a washing machine.
- I need an umbrella, it’s raining outside.
THE is called a definite article, we use the with all nouns and for specific nouns, like a certain person or a particular thing.
- Where is the teacher?
- The book is on the table
- Did you bring the cake?
The examples above are talking about specific things or people. In the first example, they are looking for a specific teacher, maybe a biology teacher or an English teacher. They are not looking for any teacher, they want to know where that particular teacher is.