How to use articles (a ,an, the) Correctly

In English, we use only three articles ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the‘. All three articles are classified into two:

Definite Article & Indefinite Article

What is an article in grammar? 

An article is an adjective that is used to indicate whether the noun is definite or indefinite.

articles of English grammar (A/AN/The)

Definite Article

The’ is the only definite article in English.

It is used before a noun to define it as something specific (something previously mentioned or known, something unique or something being identified by the speaker or reader).

For example;

The Taj Mahal is a symbol of love.
The Bible is a holy book.

Indefinite Article

‘A’ and ‘An’ are indefinite articles in English.

A/An means “one thing or person”. They have exactly the same meaning.

They indicate that the noun which is used a sentence is neither particular nor definite.

Both (a & an) are used before a singular countable noun.

For example; 

I bought a new car.
I saw an elephant there.

Use of Indefinite Articles (A/An)

1⃣ Before Consonant and Vowel

We use ‘A’ in front of consonant sounds and ‘An’ in front of vowel sounds.

For examples;

A man
A University

When we pronounce ‘man’, it has a consonant sound in the beginning, so we use ‘a’ before ‘man’. 

When we pronounce ‘University‘, it has a consonant sound in the beginning. However, it starts with the vowel ‘U‘. So we use ‘a‘ before ‘University‘ due to the consonant sound in the beginning. 

We use ‘An’ in front of vowel sounds. For example;

An M.L.A

When we pronounce ‘M.L.A‘, it has a vowel sound in the beginning. So we use ‘an‘ before ‘M.L.A

Pay attention to the sound before using ‘a‘ or ‘an‘ because a noun starting with a consonant letter may have vowel sound and vice versa.

2⃣ ‘A’ and ‘An’ before Adjective

When we use an adjective with a noun, we focus on the sound of the adjective not the noun for use of A/An. For example;

My father bought a small umbrella for me.

Here we focus on the sound of ‘small‘ for the use of A/An not on the sound of ‘umbrella‘.

3⃣ People or Things in General

When we talk about people or things in general, we use articles (A/An) with a noun.

A cat is domestic animal. [cat in general]
A big city is always fascinating. [city in general]
A small computer is not expensive. [computer in general]

4⃣ ‘A’ and ‘An’ before Proper Noun

We can use articles (‘a/an’) in front of proper nouns for literature and art.

It’s a Shakespeare play.
It’s a Premchand story.

5⃣ ‘A’ & ‘An’ in First-time Introduction

We use a/an to introduce a person or thing for the first time.This shows that the listener or reader does not know what we are referring to. After this first reference, we use ‘the

I watched a car outside there. The car was so big.

6⃣ Before Price, Distance & Frequency

We use ‘a/an’ for price, distance and frequency.

How much are these apples? They are 100 Rupees a kilo.
How often do you take these pills? I take these once a day.

7⃣ Before Certain Illnesses 

We always use ‘a/an’ with these illnesses (a cold, a headache, a sore throat).

I have a headache.
I think I’ve got a cold.

But we don’t use a’/an’ with following illnesses;

    • measles
    • pumps
    • high blood pressure
    • flu
    • gout
    • hepatitis

For examples;

Measles can be very unpleasant.
I think he’s got flu.

Use of Definite Article (The)

1⃣ ‘the’ usually means something like ‘you know which I mean’. We can use ‘the‘ with singular countable nouns, plural countable nouns and uncountable nouns which are always singular when our listener/reader knows which particular person(s), thing(s), etc we are talking about.

I didn’t like the film.
Did you wash the clothes?
I ’m going to the bank.

2⃣ We say ‘the‘…. when there is only one of something.

One and only one [In your city]

    • the police commissioner
    • the M.L.A

One and only one [In your state]

    • the Chief Minister
    • the Governor

One and Only one [In a court]

    • the High Court,
    • the Supreme Court,
    • the Judge
    • the Public prosecutor

One and Only one [In your country]

    • the President
    • the Prime Minister

One and Only one [Buildings & Monuments]

    • the Taj Mahal,
    • the Qutub Minar
    • the Buland Darwaja
    • the Red Fort
    • the Elephanta Cave

One and Only one [Rivers and Oceans]

    • the Ganga
    • the Kaveri
    • the Saraswati
    • the Arabian Sea
    • the Bay of Bengal
    • the Pacific Ocean
    • the Red Sea etc

Only and Only one [In the World]

    • the World Bank
    • the U.N.O.
    • the Europe
    • the British Airways
    • the Indian Air Force etc.

One and Only one [In the Universe]

    • the Sun
    • the Moon
    • the Jupiter
    • the Earth
    • the Sky
    • the Heaven

One and Only one [Ordinal]

    • the 1st boy
    • the last girl etc.

One and Only one [Proper noun Qualified by Adjective]

    • the king, Samudra Gupta
    • the brave man, Hercules etc.

One and Only one [Book]

    • the Bible
    • the Quran
    • the Gita etc.

3⃣ ‘the’ with Adjective

We use the with some adjectives without nouns but the meaning is always plural. For example, the poor = poor people in general.

Here are some adjectives of this type;

[the rich, the poor the old, the young the blind, the deaf the sick, the dead]

Do you think the rich should pay more taxes?
The poor have no relatives.
She goes to a school for the deaf.

4⃣ ‘the’ with Superlative Degree

We use ‘the’ with a superlative degree.

I’m the oldest in my family.
This is the best way.
Where is the closest hospital?

No or Zero Article

A noun with a zero article has no article.

1⃣ Zero Article with School, Church, etc

We don’t use ‘the’ with the following nouns when we are thinking of the idea of these places and what they are used for.

School, College, University, Church, Prison, Hospital

I met her at college, (when we were students)
He’s in hospital, (as a patient)
Sara goes to church every Sunday. ( for prayer)
Adam goes to school daily.

2⃣ Plural Nouns in General Statements

We don’t use any article in front of plural countable nouns used in general statements.

Beans are good for you.
Cats don’t like cold weather.
Watches are not expensive.

3⃣ No Article with Plural Uncountable Nouns

We don’t use any article in front of plural uncountable nouns (always singular) used in general statements.

I like butter.
Red is my favorite color.
English is a world language.

4⃣ No Article with Parts of Day and Night

We use no article when we refer the parts of day and night; at dawn, at sunrise/noon/night

I woke up at dawn.
We had lunch at noon.

5⃣ Zero Article With Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

We use no article with words like; breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Let’s have breakfast.
We are at lunch.
I cooked dinner.

Errors in Use of Articles

  1. The following nouns are uncountable in English but not in many other languages:
    bread, news, information, furniture, work, research and spaghetti.
    Don’t use a with these nouns. Use some and do not make these nouns plural.
    ❎ Please buy a bread.
    ❎ Please buy some breads.

    ✅ Please buy some bread.
  2. We don’t use the for most countries but we use the with countries that have words such as kingdom, republic, or states in them.
    ❎ I am from United States.
    ✅ I am from the United States.
  3. Don’t use the with languages.
    ❎ The English is an easy language to learn.
    ✅ English is an easy language to learn.

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