English basics – Articles A, An and The

In this blog post you will learn how to correctly use the English articles A, An and The. Lots of example sentences and 4 custom infographics to help you remember this grammar.

English basics – Articles A, An and The

There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. 5 of those letters are vowels. A, E, I, O, and U. (Y is sometimes used as a vowel but that doesn’t affect how we use articles.)

The other 19 letters are consonants. 

The articles A and AN = 1

A banana = 1 banana

Articles A AN THE – rules

A is used with words (single countable nouns) that begin with a consonant or a consonant sound.

~ a movie, a sandwich, a university (U is a vowel but the word university sounds like YOU-NIVERSITY. Y is a consonant so we use A.)

An apple = 1 apple

An is used with words (single countable nouns) that begin with a vowel or a vowel sound.

~ an octopus, an umbrella, an hour (H is a consonant but the word hour sounds like OUR. O is a vowel so we use AN.)

We use A, AN when we talk about one thing, in general. One of many things.

“Pass me a book please.”

~There are 5 books in the pile, any book is okay.

English basics - Articles A, An Infographic

“Jim came to the meeting and sat in a chair.” = There are several chairs in the room, Jim sat in one of them (one of many) so we use a chair.

We use THE when we talk about a specific thing. Specific can mean one and only one, not one of many.

For example:

The queen of England is coming to Toronto next year!”

~There is only one queen of England.

“Pass me the blue book please.”

~There are 5 books in the pile, but only one of them is blue. It is specific because there is only one.

English basics - Articles A, An Infographic

[Image 2]

Compare these examples – 

“Jim came to the meeting and sat in a chair.” = There are several chairs in the room, Jim sat in one of them (one of many) so we use a chair.

“Jim came to the meeting and sat in the chair beside the coffee machine.” = This time Jim sat in a specific chair, the chair beside the coffee machine. There is only one so we use the chair beside the coffee machine. (Also only 1 coffee machine!) This is the best place to sit!

Definite and Indefinite articles

The article THE is used with specific things. THE is a definite article. We know that it is talking about only one thing.

“Could you hand me the red pen?”

The articles A and AN are used with general things, one of many. These are called indefinite articles.

“Could you hand me a pen?”

A and An part 2

If an adjective comes in front of a countable noun, we will follow the same vowel/consonant rule for choosing the correct article.

A hungry elephant.

The noun elephant stars with a vowel sound but the adjective hungry starts with a consonant. Because the word hungry comes right after our article we will use a.

An orange bicycle.

The noun bicycle starts with a consonant, but the adjective orange starts with a vowel. Because the word orange comes right after our article we will use an.

Even in a chain of adjectives, the article we choose depends only on the word that follows it.

I saw a big, old, scary, green alligator at the swamp.

Check out my post on Adjectives – Fact or Opinion here

English basics - Articles The Infographic

Because a and an mean one item, we don’t use them with plural countable nouns or uncountable nouns.

After lunch I ate a four bananas. ✘

This is like saying I ate 1, 4 bananas. Strange… Bananas is the plural form of banana, it doesn’t use an article.

I ate four bananas. ✔

After lunch I ate an ice cream. ✘

Ice cream is an uncountable noun so this grammar is incorrect. If ice cream is followed by a countable unit, an article is correct.

After lunch I ate an ice cream cone. ✔

Cone is a countable unit of ice cream.

We use articles with single unit words of countable nouns. (Remember a, an mean 1)

I sat down and ordered a glass of wine.

Wine is not a countable noun but glass is, so we use a. One glass of wine.

I love pudding! I have a bowl of chocolate pudding every day.

Pudding is not a countable noun but bowl is. 

I have one bowl of chocolate pudding every day.

BUT!

In natural conversation we often use an article with uncountable nouns where the unit is understood. Please look at the following examples:

I woke up at 5:30 this morning, had a coffee and went to the gym.

This is natural. We can understand that a coffee means one cup of coffee.

I bought a water to take to school today.

This is also natural in conversation. It’s easy to imagine this means one bottle of water.

The can be used with both singular and plural countable nouns.

The apple-cinnamon muffin looks tasty.

The apple-cinnamon muffins looks tasty.

The part 2

In English, we also use the for things we have already talked about. 

If we have mentioned something already, that thing is specific now (there is only one) so we will use the

For example:

“I went to a sushi restaurant in New York. The restaurant is next to the bookstore in front of Central station.”

~ The restaurant becomes specific after we talk about it. At first we say a restaurant, but the second time we mention it, we use the. Now it means only one specific restaurant. The restaurant we just mentioned. (The restaurant we just talked about.) *We can also see in this sentence that we use the for bookstore because it is also specific, the bookstore is the one (the only one) in front of Central station. Because there are no other bookstores in front of the station, the bookstore from our example is specific.

English basics - Articles  The Infographic

The with places 

We often use the when we talk about these places. 

I’m going to the store. Does anyone need anything?

This can mean the store closest to where we are or the store I usually shop at. 

The is also used when we talk about my, yours, someone’s usual place. 

I’ll stop at the bank on my way home from work. ~ this means my bank, the bank that I use. There are many banks but I only use one specific bank. 

 “… on the way home from work.” is also possible here. The way I will travel from work to home. 

A: Where is Vincent today?
B: He is at the dentist.
~ this means Vincent’s regular dentist, the dentist he usually uses. 

Geena went to the mall this morning. There is a big end of season sale today. 
~ here the mall means the mall closest to where we live or the mall we usually shop at. 

Sale is a countable noun, so we can’t use it by itself. In this example the article a comes before the adjectives big and end of season. This is the first time we have talked about it, so sale is used with the article a

English article examples

Last night I saw a movie. It was great, the first 20 minutes were a little slow but the ending was amazing!

I saw one of many movies that are playing now. We mentioned that a part of the movie was slow, a specific part of the movie. The first twenty minutes. Another specific part of the movie was great, the ending. 

A: I want a coffee, let’s go to a cafe. 
B: Okay, which one?
A: How about the new coffee shop in the shopping center?
B: Sure, I have a friend who works there. Maybe he can give us a discount!

I called a taxi 5 minutes ago so hurry up and get ready. 
(5 minutes later)
The taxi is here! Let’s go!

Special thanks to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_articles for help with this post!

Leave a Reply