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Articles: a-an, the

English Grammar

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The Usage of Articles 'a-an' and 'the'

There are two articles in the English language: 'a'an' and 'the'. If you are familiar with the English language, you must have seen them already. However, the difficulty is to use them correctly although you may be familiar with them.

In English we use 'a/an' to modify non-specific nouns, and 'the' to modify specific nouns. We call 'a/an' the indefinite article, and 'the' the definite article.

Examples: "I am reading a book about world cultures." The use of 'a' in this sentence suggests not a specific book I am talking about, but just to give the idea to the reader that I am reading something about world cultures.

If I say, "Let's read the book.", then I mean a specific book. I am reading the book, Cultural Evolution in the Internet Age. This book is a specific book with its specific title, and perhaps with, at least, one author who wrote the book. If I say "Let's read a book.", I mean any book rather than a specific book that has a title, author and subject.

Ways of Using Article 'the'

1) When we refer to a specific member of a group:


"I met the oldest man of the world in the Himalayas during my travel in Asia." There are many old men in the world, but there is only one oldest man that represents the group of "old man" who lives in the Himalayas.

"I had a conversation with the president of my university yesterday." There are many university presidents that represent the group "university president', but there is only one representing my university.

The definite article is used before singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific. Article 'the' signals that the noun is definite and refers to a particular member of a group.


The woman who called my name disappeared on the street. Here, I'm talking about a specific woman, the woman who called my name.

I was happy to see the giant football star in the restaurant. Here, I mean a specific football player, a star, a very popular famous football player. Even if I don't tell the football star's name, it is still a particular football player because I saw him in the restaurant.

I saw the senator in the movie. Here, I am talking about a particular noun, a senator I know.

2) We use 'the' with Countable and Non-countable Nouns:

Article 'the' can be used with non-countable nouns, or the article can be omitted entirely.


I love to swim in the ocean (some specific ocean). I love to swim in ocean (any ocean).

He dropped the egg on the floor (some specific egg, perhaps the egg he just took out of the refrigerator). He dropped egg on the floor (any egg).

Using 'the' with Geographical Nouns:


Do not use 'the' before: names of most countries/territories: Italy, Mexico, Bolivia. However, there are exceptions: the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the United States

Do not use 'the' before names of cities, towns, or states: New York, London, Paris, Manitoba, Miami

Do not use 'the' before names of streets: Roosevelt Avenue, Hoover Boulevard, Main St.

Do not use 'the' before the names of lakes and bays: Lake Titicaca, Lake Erie. Again, there are exception: the Great Lakes

Do not use 'the' before the names of mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Fuji except with ranges of mountains like the Andes or the Rockies or unusual names like the Matterhorn names of continents (Asia, Europe)

Do not use 'the' before the names of islands: (Easter Island, Maui, Kuş Adası. Exceptions: Chains like the Aleutians, the Hebrides, or the Canary Islands

USE the:

'the' before names of rivers, oceans and seas: the Nile, the Pacific points on the globe: the Equator, the North Pole geographical areas: the Middle East, the West deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas: the Sahara, the Persian Gulf, the Black Forest, the Iberian Peninsula

USE a or an:

'Indefinite articles, 'a' and 'an' indicate that the noun used after it is indefinite, referring to any member of a group. For example:"My boyfriend really needs a haircut." This statement refers to any haircut. The style of the haircut is not important here, but the idea of getting a haircut.

"Call a cab." This statement refers to any cab. I don't need a specific cab, but I need any cab that is available.

"When I was in London, I met a royal lady in the theatre." Here, I am talking about a single, non-specific royal woman. There are probably several aristocrat women in London, but I am just referring here to an aristocrat female I saw in the theatre.

Using 'a' or 'an' depends on the sound that begins the word. Singular nouns beginning with a consonant, like chair, house, bike, dress, dog take "a'. a chair, a house, a bike, a dress, a dog

Singular nouns beginning with a vowel such as idea, elephant, egg, apple, idiot, orphan take 'an'. an idea, an elephant, an egg, an apple, an idiot, an orphan.

Use 'a' with a singular noun beginning with a consonant sound that is pronounced like 'yoo'. For example, the word user begins with a consonant 'u' but is pronounced as 'y'. So, the word 'user' takes 'a' (a user). Other words beginning with 'u', university and cycle, take also 'a'.


a broken egg, an unusual problem, a European country (sounds like 'yer-o-pi-an,' i.e. begins with consonant 'y' sound)

Also, remember the indefinite articles 'a''an' are used to indicate membership in a group. I am a doctor. (I am a member of a large group known as doctors.) Sue is an American. (Sue is a member of the people known as American.) Mehmet is a practicing Muslim. (Mehmet is a member of the group of people known as Muslims.)

'A/an' can be used only with count nouns. I need a glass of water." "I want a bottle of juice."

You can't say, "She wants a water," unless you're implying, say, a bottle of water.

Nouns that don't take an article:

Names of languages and nationalities: Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian

Names of sports: volleyball, hockey, baseball

Names of academic subjects: mathematics, biology, history, computer science


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