What is an article?
article is a word that modifies or describes the Noun. It is used
before the noun to show whether it refers to something specific or not.
in a way, articles can also be described as a type of adjectives as
they also tell us something about the nouns, like adjectives.
Types of Articles
There are two types of Articles in the English language. They are as follows:
Definite article: Definite
means to be clear, exact or obvious about something. It is called
definite because it is used in relation to a particular
thing or person. “The” is the definite article in English, which is used to refer to particular nouns, the identities of which are known. The definite
article indicates that the noun is specific. The speaker talks about a particular thing. For example:
The cat sat on the couch.
The dog attacked me and ran away.
how the reference is not left indefinite in both the sentences. It is
clear that a particular cat sat on the couch in the first sentence and a
specific dog that attacked the speaker is being spoken about in the second example.
Indefinite articles: Indefinite means something which is not clear, obvious or exact. They are called indefinite because the identity of the thing
or person being spoken about is left unclear or indefinite. The indefinite article indicates that the noun is not someone or something in particular.
The speaker talks about any one of that type of things. The indefinite articles in English are "a" and "an."For example:
Do you have a pencil?
I want to have an apple.
Notice how the speaker is not asking for a particular pencil or apple, but any pencil or apple in the above sentences.
Difference between “A” and “An”
Indefinite articles ‘a/an’ are used as follows:
‘A’ is used before a word beginning with a consonant sound. Consonant letters in the English alphabet are B,C,D,F,G,H,J,K,L,M,N,P,Q,R,S,T,V,W,X,Y,Z.
For example: A boy, a cat, a dog, a fight, a gym, a horse, a joke, a kite, a lion, a mirror, a noise, a pin, a quilt, etc.
‘An’ is used before a word beginning with a vowel sound. Vowel letters in the English alphabet are A, E, I, O, U.
For example: An apple, an elephant, an idiot, an orange, an umbrella, etc.
Note here that the usage is on the basis of sound and not only the letter the word starts with.
“An honest man”
“A one eyed dog”
Do these seem wrong to you?
They’re not and the reason is that the ‘usage is on the basis of sound’. The words 'hour' and 'honest' both begin with a vowel sound, as the
'h' is not pronounced. Similarly, the word 'one' begins with the
consonant sound of 'w' and hence is written as 'a one eyed dog', not 'an
one eyed dog'.
remember that we use "a" and "an" only before a singular noun. We can't
use "a" and "an" before a plural noun. For example:
A book - correct
A books - incorrect
An egg - correct
An eggs – incorrect
Tips to remember the differences in a nutshell
Ø a + singular noun beginning with a consonant : a bag;a pen, etc.
Ø an + singular noun beginning with a vowel: an egg; an orphan, etc.
Ø a + singular noun beginning with a consonant sound:auser(sounds like 'yoo-zer,' i.e., gives a 'y' sound, so 'a' is used); a university; a European, etc.
Ø an + nouns starting with silent "h":an hour; an honest man, etc.
These rules also apply in Acronyms.
He is a DU (Delhi University) student.
He is an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) graduate.
The rule also applies when acronyms start with consonant letters but have vowel sounds.
She is an MBA (Master of Business Administration).
When/If the noun is modified by an adjective, the choice between a and an depends on the initial sound of the adjective
that immediately follows the article.
a beautiful umbrella
an unusual situation
a European country (pronounced as 'yer-o-pi-an,' i.e., sounds like consonant 'y')
A/An is used to indicate membership in a group.
- I am a journalist. (I am a member of a large group of professionals known as journalists.)
- She is an Indian. (She is a member of the people from India, known as Indians.)
Difference between “A” and “The”
as mentioned earlier, is used to give information about particular or
known nouns. These are usually things that have been mentioned before or
that the listener is familiar with. On the other hand, "A" or "an" is
used to talk about things which are not particular. Usually, these are
things that haven't been mentioned before or that the listener is
For example, study these sentences:
I went to see a tattoo artist.
The tattoo artist has given me an appointment next week.
is clear that in the first sentence, the speaker did not go to see a
particular tattoo artist. He/she went to see any tattoo artist and was
speaking to a friend about the same. The tattoo artist in this case has
either not been mentioned before or is not that important, and therefore
their identity is unknown.
in the second sentence, the speaker refers to the tattoo artist that
had already been mentioned before. The identity is already known,
therefore, “the” has been used to refer the tattoo artist.
Usage of ‘the’
Let’s study the different cases where ‘the’ can or cannot be used.
Count and Noncount Nouns
The can either be used with noncount nouns or the article can be omitted entirely. For example:
She liked to sail over the water. Here, some specific body of water is being talked about.
She liked to sail over water. Here, no particular water is being talked about. It can refer to any water.
‘A’/’An’ can be used only with single count nouns.
I need a bottle of juice.
I need an eraser.
Use of ‘the’ in case of geography
There are some specific rules for using ‘the’ with geographical nouns.
Do not use ‘the’ before:
names of most countries/territories: India, Brazil, Canada; however,
the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the United
Ø names of cities, towns, or states: Toronto, Delhi, Sao Paolo
Ø names of streets: Callowhill Drive, Park Avenue
Ø names of lakes and bays: Lake Michigan, Lake Ontario; except while referring to a group of lakes - the Great Lakes
Ø names of mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Fuji except with ranges of mountains like the Andes or the Rockies or unusual names like the Matterhorn
Ø names of continents: Asia, Europe
Ø names of islands (Easter Island, Maui, Key West) except with island chains likethe Andaman Islands, the Canary Islands
Use ‘the’ before:
Ø names of rivers, oceans and seas: the Ganga, the India Ocean
Ø points on the globe: the Equator, the South Pole
Ø geographical areas: the South East, the Asia Pacific
Ø deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas: the Kalahari, the Sunderbans
Where articles are not used?
usage of articles is one of the most confusing things to remember for
many English learners. It is not always necessary to use articles
everywhere. Our tip is to remember the cases where articles should not
Do not use articles:
Ø When you talk about things in general.
For example: I like birds.
Here, the speaker wants to imply that he/she likes any bird in general, and not a specific type of a bird.
Ø When talking about plural count nouns.
For example: Dogs make great pets.
Here, you are not talking about one specific dog or one specific pet; you are talking about all dogs in general.
Ø When talking about non-count nouns.
For example: I love music.
Here, the speaker is saying that he enjoys music, in general – not any specific kind of music or song.
Ø When talking about specific days or holidays, geography, companies, languages.
For example: I have bought candles for Diwali.
Here, the speaker is talking about the candles he has bought to use on the day of Diwali.
Ø When talking about Geography.
Articles are not used before countries, states, cities, towns, continents, single lakes, single mountains, etc.
For example: I live in Canada.
Mt. Rosa is part of the Alps mountain range.
Here, Mt. Rosa is one mountain, whereas The Alps refer to a group of mountains.
United Arab Emirates, The Russian Federation", The People's Republic of
China, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,
Dominion of Canada, etc., all contain articles because of the usage of
common nouns such as kingdom, republic, states, united, dominion,
Netherlands, the Philippines, The Bahamas, The Maldives, etc. have
‘the’ before them due to the plural nature of the names of the
The Ukraine, the Sudan, etc. are exceptions to all of
these rules. It is perhaps, due to common use, or at least previous
common use. There have
been historical uses of articles before names of countries that don't fit into either category.
Ø When you talk about companies.
For example: Steve Jobs founded Apple.
I use Facebook every day.
Here, the speaker is referring to companies like Apple and Facebook.
Ø When you talk about languages.
For example: I speak Hindi.
Here, the speaker is talking about the language Hindi.
Ø When you talk about places, locations, streets.
For example: My house is located on Callowhill Drive.
I left my pen at home.
Here, a street called Callowhill Drive and speaker’s home are being talked about.
However, there are specific places that do need the use an article. For example:
the bank, the hospital, the post office, the airport, the train station, the bus stop, etc.
Ø When you talk about sports and physical activities.
For example: I love to play cricket.
She enjoys dancing.
Here, cricket and dancing is being talked about.
Ø When there is a noun + number
For example: She is staying at the Hilton hotel in room 127.
The train to Montreal leaves from platform 9.
Here, the nouns are followed by numbers; hence, no article is used.
Ø When talking about academic subjects.
For example: I hate attending Mathematics classes.
Here, the mathematic classes are being discussed.
A table to remember when or when not to use Articles
‘A’/ ‘An’ is used
When mentioning something for the first time.
I went for a movie.
When talking about something which belongs to a set of the same thing.
This is a pen.
When talking about someone who belongs to a certain group.
She is an engineer.
When talking about a certain kind of a thing.
I've have made a great movie.
When wanting to say that someone is a certain kind of person.
She is a shy girl.
‘The’ is used
When talking about a particular thing.
The movie that I went for was fantastic.
When talking about something that you are sure of.
I cleared the interview.
When there is only one such thing.
I don’t like to go out in the sun.
No article is used
When talking about
something in general.
Swimming is a great physical activity.
When talking about cities,
countries, streets, sports, etc.
We visited France.
We watched soccer together.
Determiners are a kind of noun modifier; they precede and are necessarily followed by nouns. While adjectives perform a similar function, the term
‘determiner’ refers to a relatively limited set of well-established words that can be said to ‘mark’ nouns.
function of determiners is to ‘express reference’; i.e. they clarify
what a noun is referring to. For example when one says ‘that box’,
the listener knows which box is being referred to.
There are many types of determiners:
There are three articles: a, an, and the.
and an are indefinite articles that serve the same purpose, but they
cannot be used interchangeably, because ‘a’ is only used before words
begin with consonants, and ‘an’ is used only before words that
begin with vowels. (Note: ‘an’ before ‘h’ when it is silent, as in
‘hour’ and ‘honour’;
‘a’ before ‘u’ and ‘eu’ when they sound like ‘you’, as in ‘European’ and ‘university’.
The uses of the indefinite article are as follows:
refer to some member of a group, class or category. For example He is a
doctor (profession)/an Indian (nationality)/a Hindu (religion).
- To refer to a kind of, or example of something. For example He has a large nose/a thick beard/a strange aunt.
- Preceding singular nouns, with the words ‘what’ and ‘such’. For example What a car! Oh, that’s such a shame!
- To mean ‘one’ object, whether a person or thing. For example The thieves stole a necklace and a portrait.
- To refer to something that is being mentioned for the first time. For example There was a chill in the air.
- We usually say a hundred, a thousand, a million, etc.
is not indiscriminately used to refer to singular objects; ‘one’ is
used when emphasis is required. For example There is only one way out of
‘The’ is known as the definite article in English. Its uses are as follows:
something is being referred to that has already been mentioned. For
example I saw a pretty girl at the mall today. The pretty girl did not,
however, see me.
- When both parties involved in the conversation are aware of what is being discussed. For example Where is the restroom?
- To refer to unique objects. For example the sun, the moon, the Earth, the Taj Mahal.
superlatives and ordinal numbers (numbers used to rank a set of
objects). For example Mt Everest is the tallest mountain on earth, Neil
Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
refer to groups of people, geographical areas and oceans, and with
decades or groups of years. For example the Americans, the
Sahara/Pacific, the fifties/sixities/seventies/eighties.
Quantifiers form a sub-class under determiners. They are adjectives or phrases that serve to answer two possible questions:
1. How many?
2. and How much?
For example: a few, a little, much, many, most, some, any, enough, etc., are quantifiers.
Quantifiers that describe quantity
Words and phrases that describe quantity include a little, none, a few, etc. Some of these are used only with:
Countable nouns - These are the nouns that answer the question How many? For example: a few, a number of, several, etc.
Uncountable nouns - These are the nouns that answer the question How much? For example: a little, a bit of, etc. )
of them are also used with both. These are the ones that answer both
questions. For example: such as no/none, some, a lot of, etc.
Quantifiers that express attitude
words few, little and the phrases - a few and a little serve to
describe the speaker’s attitude to the quantity being described.
The first two carry negative suggestions, whereas the last two carry positive suggestions. For example:
phrase I have little time means that the speaker hardly has time,
whereas the phrase I have a little time means that while the speaker
may not have all the time in the world, but s/he has enough for the purpose at hand.
Enough is used to indicate the necessary amount or quantity; it is placed before nouns. For example: There is enough time,
You have enough money, Is there enough food?, etc.
There are ten comparative or grade quantifiers: much, many, more, most, few, fewer, fewest, little, less, and least.
Much, many, more and most describe (in ascending order) increase; much is used only with uncountable nouns, many only
with plural countable nouns,
and more and most with both.
I have much time. < I have more time. < I have the most time.
I have many apples. < I have more apples. < I have the most apples.
fewer, fewest, little, less and least chart decrease. The first three
(in descending order) are used only with countable plural nouns.
The last three (in descending order) are used only with uncountable nouns.
He has few friends. > He has fewer friends. > He has the fewest friends.
He has little time. > He has less time. > He has the least time.
that, these and those are known are demonstratives; they describe the
position of an object, seen from the speaker’s viewpoint.
This and these (used for singular and plural nouns respectively) refer to objects that close by. For example Whose car is this?
Whose cars are these?
and those (used for singular and plural nouns respectively) refer to
objects that are further away. The closeness can be physical
or psychological. For example Who lives in that house?
are cardinal (one, two, three, etc) and ordinal (first, second, third,
etc). Cardinal numbers are adjectives that indicate quantity
(There are fives apples on the table), and ordinal numbers indicate rank or order (This is the first time for me on a plane).
The words all, both, half, each, every, either and neither are known as distributives.
All, Both, Half
These three words can be used in the following ways:
Don Bradman is the greatest batsman of all time.
‘the’ + uncountable noun/countable noun in plural form
We have all the time in the world.
All the people in the hall went quiet.
‘my’, ‘your’, etc + uncountable noun/countable noun in plural form
All my life I have been waiting for this moment.
All you friends have been invited to the party.
‘this’, ‘that’ + uncountable noun/‘these’, ‘those’ + countable noun in plural form
Look at all this dust!
I do not have time for all these formalities.
/‘my’, ‘your’, etc/‘these’, ‘those’ + countable noun in plural form
(note: used only when two objects are being referred to)
Both the dogs have passed away.
Both my ankles have been hurting since I jumped from the balcony.
Both these books must be returned within the week.
‘a’ + uncountable noun
We bought half a kilo of rice.
‘the’/‘my’, ‘your’, etc/‘this’, ‘that’, ‘these’, ‘those’ + noun
Half the village perished in the floods.
I spent half my inheritance on travelling the world.
You may have half (of) this cake.
Only half (of) those points are relevant.
Each, Every, Either, Neither
Possessive pronouns and adjectives indicate who an object belongs to.
The pronouns are
mine (first person: This car is mine = I own this car)
yours (second person: This car is yours = You own this car)
his, hers, and its (third person: This cars is his/hers = He/she owns this car).
The corresponding adjectives are
his, her, and it
- Difference words
and another are ‘difference words’; they refer to something different,
or remaining, or more. Other is used with singular and plural nouns,
while another is used strictly with singular nouns.
What other colours can I get this in?
Is there another colour that this is available in?
- Defining words
Which and whose are ‘defining words’; they indicate which thing or person is being referred to.
This is the house which I used to live in as a child.
This is the man whose window you broke.
9. Question words