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Articles in English

July 13, 2015 by Mamta Bhatt


Using articles in English is very important, but it can also be very difficult to know which article to use and when to use them. Knowing when to use ‘a,’ ‘an,’ ‘the,’ or nothing at all can be very confusing and it might look like there is no pattern at all, but there are some rules and I will try and cover them with you here. Just be thankful that tables are not female and windows male. Anyone who has studied French or Spanish knows this frustration with articles.

Using ‘a’ and ‘an’

We use the indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’ when we are talking about one item, and we don’t have a specific item in mind. For example “Could you please get me a coke from the fridge?” With this sentence there may be many cokes in the fridge and you can get any of them for me.

Using ‘the’

We use the definite article ‘the’ when we are talking about one item, and we have a specific item in mind. For example, “Could you please get me the coke from the fridge?” With this sentence, maybe you share a fridge with your roommate and you want your friend to get your coke from the fridge and not your roommate’s. Here we are talking about a specific coke.


How to know when to use the right article

When deciding if you should use an article or nothing at all you have to look and decide if the noun is countable, like apple, or uncountable, like rice. For example, “Go to the store and buy an apple.” Here we have a countable noun so we use the article ‘a’. “Go to the store and buy rice.” In this sentence we have an uncountable noun so no article is needed.

Articles and proper nouns

You also don’t need to use articles for proper nouns. You would say, “I live in Australia,” and not “I live in the Australia.” However, there are some exceptions for proper nouns. Countries with abbreviations, or longer names often need to use “the” before naming them. For example, The United States, The United Kingdom, The Netherlands, or The Republic of Korea (although if you name the ROK just as Korea, you don’t need to use an article.)

So when using articles first decide if you are talking about one or more items, then decide if the item is specific or non-specific, finally if it is countable or uncountable. These three steps should help you decide if you need to use an article and which one.

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