Articles in English Grammar


Introduction

Articles are words that precede nouns. There are two kinds of articles in the English language. The indefinite articles a/an and the definite article the. We use the definite article with previously-mentioned nouns and the indefinite articles with nouns that are mentioned for the first time. There’s also a list of nouns that we typically use with no article.


Example

Ms Smith is a businesswoman. She is in a hotel room. There is a bed, a carpet and a bedside table in the room. On the bedside table there is a bedside lamp.

Ms Smith has got two pieces of luggage: a suitcase and a handbag. The suitcase is very heavy.


The Indefinite Article

The indefinite article in English is a/an. We use the indefinite article:

  • to talk about something unspecifiedExample:Ms Smith is in a hotel room. some hotel room It is not specified exactly which hotel room she is in.

  • to mention something in a text for the first time (introductory) Example:There is a bed, a carpet and a bedside table.Ms Smith has got two pieces of luggage: a suitcase and a handbag.

  • in job titles

  • Example:Ms Smith is a businesswoman.

To Note

We use an instead of a before words that begin with a vowel or vowel sound or (i.e. silent h),.

Example:an apple (not:a apple)an hour (not:a hour)

The vowel u at the beginning of a word is sometimes pronounced [ʌ] and sometimes [ju]. When pronounced [ʌ], we use an. When pronounced [ju], we use a:

Example:an umbrella (but:a university)


The Definite Article

The definite article in English is the. We use the definite article:

  • to talk about something specificExample:There is a bed, a carpet and a bedside table in the room.a certain room, i.e. the one she is in

  • when we have already mentioned something or assume it to be already knownExample:Ms Smith has got two pieces of luggage: a suitcase and a handbag. The suitcase is very heavy.

To Note

Usually we pronounce the definite article [ðə]. If the following word begins with a vowel sound, however, we pronounce the definite article [ðı].


No Article

We generally don’t use any article for:

  • plural nouns that refer to general people/things (but: for specific people/things we use an article) Example:Businesswomen travel a lot. (but: The businesswomen that I know travel a lot.)Hotels are very expensive. (but: The hotels in this area are affordable.)

  • the names of towns, streets, squares, parksExample:Ms Smith is in Dublin. Her hotel is in Merrion Street between Fitzwilliam Square and Merrion Park.

  • the names of countries (except for the Netherlands those containing Kingdom, Republic, State, Union)Example:Dublin is in Ireland. (but: Miami is in the USA./We go to the Netherlands every summer.)

  • the names of continents and lakes Example:Ireland is a country in Europe. Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world.

  • the names of days and months (except when specified) Example:She travelled to Ireland in May. She arrived on Monday. (but: She arrived on a rainy Monday.)

  • with adverbs of time such as next/last Example:She left last Monday and is coming back next Wednesday.

  • mealsExample:The hotel serves breakfast between 8 and 10 o’clock.

  • languages that a person knowsExample:Ms Smith speaks English.

  • institutions such as school, university, hospital, prison (but not when we are talking about one particular school, university etc.)Example:The children go to school. (but: Her son and my daughter go to the school at the end of the street.)

  • in certain expressions with bed, class, home, work Example:go to bed be in class after work come home

  • materials (e.g. paper, wood, water, milk, iron), but only when generalising (if we’re talking about one particular thing, we have to use an article.)Example:Paper is made of wood. We need to buy milk. (but: Where is the paper for the printer?)

  • abstract nouns i.e. things that you can’t touch, in a general context Example:Life is complicated. Hope dies last. What’s on TV today? (but: We never eat dinner in fron of the TV.)

  • expressions with go by + means of transportExample:Did she get to the hotel by bus or by taxi?

  • expressions with play + sport (but not: play + musical instrument)Example:He plays tennis. (but: She plays the piano.)

  • Titles and departments used with verbs like be, become, elect, appoint Example:When was Barack Obama elected President? She was appointed Executive Director.

  • We don’t usually use articles with parts of the body of personal objects. Instead, we use possessive determiners (my, your, …). Example:I put my hand in my pocket. The children are brushing their teeth.

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