Articles (a, an, the)

19 October 2014 by Diane

a / an= indefinite article (not a specific object, one of a number of the same objects) --- used with countable nouns

  • She has a dog.                        - I have an apple?
  • I work in a factory.                        - She is an English teacher.

the = definite article (a specific object that both the person speaking and the listener know)---- often used with plural and uncountable nouns

  • The car over there is fast.
  • The teacher who teaches me through Skype  is very nice.

The first time you speak of something use "a or an," the next time you repeat that object use "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.

Extra Information

  • DO NOT use an article when you are speaking about things in general (ex. I like tea; She is interested in cars.)
  • DO NOT use articles with proper nouns (ex. New York, Diane...)
  • DO NOT use articles with states, countries or continents, unless it is a collection of states/countries or it is plural (ex. the United States, the Bahamas, Brazil, Asia,...)
  • DO NOT use articles with lakes (ex. Lake Michigan)
  • Use “the” with rivers, mountain ranges (but not individual mountains), oceans, deserts and seas (ex. the Amazon River, the Alps, Mount Everest, the Pacific Ocean, the Sahara desert, the Red Sea,...)
  • DO NOT use an article when you are speaking about meals (ex. breakfast, lunch, dinner), unless you are being specific (ex. the breakfast I ate yesterday...)

Some Uncountable nouns

Food and drink: bacon, beef, beer, bread, broccoli, butter, candy, celery, cereal, cheese, chocolate, coffee, corn, cream, fish, flour, fruit, ice cream, lettuce, meat, milk, oil, pasta, rice, salt, spinach, sugar, tea, water, wine, yogurt, etc...

Non-food substances: air, cement, coal, dirt, gasoline, gold, ice, leather, paper, plastic, rain, snow, steel, soap, wood, wool, etc...

Abstract nouns: advice, anger, beauty, confidence, courage, employment, fun, happiness, health, honesty, information, intelligence, honesty, information, knowledge, love, poverty, truth, wealth, etc...

Others: biology, equipment, furniture, homework, jewelry, mail, money, news, poetry, research, weather, work, etc...

Here’s a trick...
When deciding which article to use, ask yourself the following questions:

Is the noun singular OR plural / uncountable?

Singular Nouns

Is the noun definite (specific)?

Yes -- use the

ex. The painting in the the living room was given to me by an old friend.

No -- use a or an

ex. Lisa ate a sandwich and an ice cream cone for lunch.

Plural or Uncountable Nouns

Is the noun definite (specific)?

Yes -- use the

ex. Do you have the books that I gave to you?

No -- use NO article

ex. Books can teach you a lot. / I drink coffee every day.

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