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Examples for the English Articles: a-an, the

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When to use 'a' and 'the'

When not to use "the"

When not to use "a" or "an"


1. Use "a/an" before non-specific common nouns:

"I spoke to a customer service representative on the phone yesterday."

In this sentence, "a" suggests I spoke to somebody who represents the position of customer service representative, but not any specific person, such as Ms. Golderberg or Mr. Brown. Customer service representative is a common noun.

"I saw a red parrot in the woods."

Not a specific parrot but any red parrot was the one I saw yesterday in the woods. Parrot is a common noun.

"I have read a book about Eskimos." (not a specific book) Book is a common noun.

Use "a" or "an" with only count nouns:

"I need a glass of water." "I want a bottle of juice."

Use "a" with singular nouns beginning with consonants 'u', 'x' or 'y' (a university; a yacht, a xerox machine).

Use "an" with vowel count nouns: an apple, an obstacle, an example, an orange

2. Use "the" with a specific common noun or nouns:

"I spoke to the customer representative at the front desk yesterday."

I spoke to the specific customer representative who was at the front desk and yesterday, but not any other location and not any other day.

The president thanked the union members. (the members who represent the union)

3. Use "the" when you refer to the comparative or superlative status of common nouns:

the younger member, the youngest member

the cheaper computer, the cheapest computer

the taller girl, the tallest girl

"I met the youngest musician in the music competition."

4. Use "the" before specific and common nouns such as:

the street, the road, the mountain, the river, the sea or the lake.

"I traveled on the sea."

"I traveled on the river."

"I swam in the river."

"I swam in the lake."

5. Use of "the" before a group of rivers (the Nile), a group of lakes (the Michigan Lake); a chain of mountains (the Andies, the Rockies), a chain of islands (the Aleutians, the Hebrides), the Canary Islands), gulfs (the Persian Gulf), forests (the Black Forest), deserts (the Sahara), peninsulas (the Iberian Peninsula)

DO NOT USE "the"

1. Do not use "the" before uncommon nouns:

Nouns such as Helen, Paul, Ahmed, Chen are uncommon nouns, and they do not take any articles.

2. Do not use "the" before names of most countries or continents:

Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, China, Bolivia; Europe, North America, South America, Australia, Africa, Antarctica

These are exceptions: the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the United States

3. Do not use "the" before names of cities, towns or states:

New York, London, Paris, re Manitoba, Miami

4. Do not use "the" before street or avenue or boulevard names; before lake, bay, river, sea or mountain names:

Main Street, Roosevelt Avenue, Hoover Boulevard; Lake Titicaca, Lake Erie

Do not use "the" before names of islands:

Easter Island, Maui Island

Do not use "the" with nonspecific non-count nouns:

"I love to travel on sea." The noun "sea" without "a" before it refers to the idea of sea, but not a specific sea. "I swam in the sea" suggests a "specific sea" such as the sea near my home.

"I hate ice cream."

In this sentence, I hate the food "icecream" is a nonspecific noun.

If I say "I hate the icecream my mother makes." "I hated the icecream I ate at her party." In these two sentences "the icecream" suggests a specific icecream: the icecream my mother makes; the icecream I ate at her party.

DO NOT USE "a" or "an"

Do not use "a" or "an" with specific count nouns:

Correct: "I spoke to the boss about my salary."

Incorrect: "I spoke to a boss about my salary."

Do not use "a" or "an" before non-count nouns:

Correct: "I have paid some money for this service."

Incorrect: "I have paid a money for this service."








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Articles, a-an, the

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