Articles are an important part of the English language as they provide important information about nouns that they precede. There are three types of articles - namely definite, indefinite, and zero or no articles. The fact that English nouns do not carry gender certainly makes English articles easy to learn.
Some students may still find the use of articles tricky. If you can relate then this three-part blog post is just for you. Part 1 (below) will cover an introduction to articles in English grammar, together with some practical help in understanding and using indefinite articles in particular. To learn how to use English articles easily, read on.
If you find this post helpful, why not try one of these next steps?
1. Learn more - look out for my next post
to learn more about using articles easily
2. Practice what you learn - see my suggestions at the end of this post
3. Accelerate your learning - take an English course. CLICK HERE
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What is an Article?
An article is a word that comes before a noun
that tells us if the noun is specific or unspecific
In a way, it is like an adjective because it describes or defines the specificity of a noun.
There are three types of articles
in the English language (remember, nouns do not carry gender in English).
The first is the indefinite article
- “a” or “an” - which shows us that it is not a specific noun
that is being referred to.
Then there is the definite article
- “the” - which shows that we are talking about a specific noun
Finally, there are certain types of nouns that do not require articles
- the zero article
A quick way to remember English articles:
= not clearly defined - “a” / “an”
= sure or certain - “the”
This blog post forms part of and will (in time) link to a series of other practical posts to make English articles easy. This post will cover the indefinite article - “a” and “an” - and will also include some helpful exercises to practice this grammar structure.
Indefinite Articles - A / AN
As mentioned above, we use indefinite articles to talk about general ideas or unspecific, undefined, nouns.
These are nouns that we are not familiar
with or that have not yet been introduced
in a conversation or text.
Also, remember that indefinite articles are used to refer to singular, countable nouns.
Mmmm... What do we know about this lion?
No specific lion
This could be any lion
We do not know which lion
We don’t know his name, where he’s from, or anything about him
It’s just any old lion
[any old = any item of a specified type - to show that no particular thing is being indicated]
A or AN?
We use “a”
before nouns that begin with consonants sounds
We use “an”
before nouns beginning with vowel sounds
such as a, e, i, o, and u.
This rule also applies to ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS:
ery hot day
There are some EXCEPTIONS that depend on the pronunciation of the consonant:
- The “h” silent
- Word starts with the vowel sound
- The “u” is pronounced “you”
- Word starts with the consonant sound
Uses for Indefinite articles
1. To mention a thing, animal, or person for the first time
May I have an a
ld woman drove the car
You can adopt a d
og from a shelter
2. Naming members of a group or category - i.e. a job
My brother is training to be a n
She wants to be a f
John Thomson is an a
3. To define a person’s religion or nationality in the singular
I am an A
Jason is a C
She is a E
uropean (remember the rule: “eu” sounds like “you”)
4. To mention a day of the week, but not an actual day or date in particular
I have yoga class on a W
She is only available on a F
Christmas is on a M
onday this year
5. To refer to an example of something (usually when describing a noun)
It was a v
ery cold day
I am reading an i
iny spider crawled over my hand
6. To express a high quality or degree of a singular noun, after the words 'what' and 'such'
It was such a b
What a d
He is such a k
7. When talking about acronyms
[acronym = a word made from the first letters of the words that comprise the name of a thing]
ociety for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals volunteer was interviewed
.P.C.A volunteer was interviewed
* Note: When saying the acronym S.P.C.A, the S sounds like it starts with a vowel - “es”
Exceptions - where we don’t use a / an
1. When the number of a noun is important, then we use ONE (or more) instead of A/AN to refer to a single noun or measuring unit
There is only one
piece of cake left
The recipe calls for one
kilogram of potatoes
Please could I order one
stapler, three pencils, and two pens
2. A / AN are not used with demonstratives, possessive pronouns, or cardinal numbers (counting numbers)
jacket is expensive
car is fixed
There is one
person in the room
3. We use “some” in place of “a” or “an” - to talk about unspecific, undefined, nouns - in the plural.
*Note: “some” is also regarded as an indefinite article
May I have some
sugar to taste
Exercise 1: Nouns
A or AN?
Exercise 2: Nouns with adjectives and adverbs
A or AN?
1. Honest man
2. Tiny ant
3. Ugle duckling
4. Huge ox
5. Old car
6. Famous Actress
7. Yellow unicorn
8. Very sore arm
9. Extremely sick patient
10. Bright orange bird
Excercise 3: Sentences
Fill in the blanks:
1. I am from Africa. I am ___ ___________ man.
2. Oliver Twist, a hungry orphan said: “Please, Sir, may I have ______ more.”
3. My friend wore ___ _______ dress to the party. She looked like ___ peacock.
4. Jane cures all her patients. She is ____ exceptionally _______ _______ .
5. It was ___ __________ to be invited to their wedding.
6. This is ___ __________ car. I would not even afford its insurance.
7. South Africa became __ _______ on 31 May 1910.
8. Please could I have two bananas and ____ a_______?
- Use "A" for the first mention and "the" thereafter
- The = the only one (on the table, in the room etc.)
- A / An = one of several/many, The = you know what thing
- "An" comes before a vowel sound, not a vowel
There are a number of ways to practice the use of articles and to improve your English in general. Here are a few:
1. Keep speaking! Join a community group, sports or art club where there are English people and make friends :)
2. Read, read, read! I'll say no more!
3. Take an English course to accelerate this process!
SIGN UP FOR AN ENGLISH COURSE > HERE
AND GET YOUR FIRST CLASS FREE :)
1. AN hour
2. AN accountant
3. A bed
4. AN owl
5. AN egg
6. A university
7. AN Indian
8. AN uncle
1. AN honest man
2. A Tiny ant
3. AN ugly duckling
4. A huge ox
5. AN old car
6. A famous actress
7. A yellow unicorn
8. A very sore arm
9. AN extremely sick patient
10. A bright orange bird
1. AN AFRICAN
3. A COLOURFUL; A
4. AN; GOOD / SKILLED DOCTOR
5. AN HONOUR
6. AN EXPENSIVE
7. A UNION
8. AN APPLE
Intro to articles | Khan Academy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EsDY2VbIXs
Definite and indefinite articles | Khan Academy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSd0uByBoTo
Articles in English (Definite/ Indefinite/Zero)