Indefinite and Definite Articles (a – an – the)

schlechte horror spiele For learners of English whose native languages do not include articles, this subject may look a little difficult at the beginning. Nevertheless you can easily understand it with examples. Articles are placed before nouns and define them. There are three articles in the English language, and are separated into two groups as indefinite and definite articles. The indefinite articles are “a” and “an”, while the definite article is “the”.

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As the name suggests, these articles convey a level of uncertainty. The nouns that come after them can be “any” noun. They can be used for countable nouns and objects that are not exactly specified. To give a few examples:

  • “Police are searching for a 12 year-old boy.”

In this sentence, we do not know who that “12 year-old boy” is. Therefore it is suitable to use an indefinite article.

Other examples can be “a student, a man, a box, a cat” – we do not know which student, man, box or cat the speaker is talking about.

  • Another point where indefinite articles are used is when a person or object belongs to a particular group:

“He is a student at Hill Road School.”

In this example, the student specified is “a student of” Hill Road School. Thus, he has become any one of the students of Hill Road School.

  • Indefinite articles cannot be used with plural or uncountable nouns.

“Sean was wearing green shoes.”

In this sentence, “green shoes” are plural, therefore we cannot use definite articles.

“Linda has long hair.”

In this sentence, “hair” is uncountable, therefore we cannot say “a hair”, although we may say “a strand of hair.”

  • We can use indefinite articles while speaking about the profession of a person or their professional title:

My little sister is a doctor.

Richard is a lawyer.

  • Another point where indefinite articles are used is when making a general statement about all the members of the stated group. For example:

A cat likes to eat meat.

Here, “a cat” refers to the general behavior of cats in general, therefore making the sentence a general statement about cats.

A man has to know his limitations.

Here “a man” refers not to a specific man, but people in general.

  • “An” and “a” are similar articles, but they cannot be used interchangeably. The rule for the use of “an” is to use it before nouns that begin with a consonant. For the words beginning with a vowel, we use “an” instead.

 

“An orange, an umbrella, an animal, an island, an automobile”

“A hospital, a helicopter, a hovercraft”

 

What you need to pay attention to here, is that the definitive rule is not always the first letter of the word, but rather the first sound. For example, the word “hour” seems to begin with a consonant; nevertheless, “h” is read as silent, making the first sound of the word a vowel. Thus, for the “hour”, we use the indefinite article “an”.
Other examples similar to “hour” are “an honor”, “an honest mistake”.

 

On the opposite side, there are words that seem to begin with a vowel but are used with “an”, such as “a university” and “a European”.

 

Definite article (the)

“The” is one of the most often used words in the English language. This word is used when the speaker knows exactly which object s/he is speaking about. Unlike indefinite articles, in this case the specified object is unique and is well-known.

  • “The Sun is 149,600,000 km. away from the Earth.”

In this sentence, “the Sun” and “the Earth” are unique celestial bodies known by all, and are therefore used with “the”.

Another example: “The Queen is dead.”

 

  • We use “the” for “superlative objectives”:

“The Nile River is the longest river in the world.”

“I was the tallest boy in the class.”

 

  • For cases when the specified noun is the one of its kind around:

“You will find our house easily, it’s next to the Church.”

The church specified in the sentence conveys the meaning that it is the only church in that neighborhood.
“Look at the girl in the red dress over there!”

Here we understand that the speaker is already pointing to the specific girl at the time of speech.

 

  • For nouns that are already specified in a previous sentence, or in other words, for nouns that are already known to the people in the conversation:

“I saw a boy on the bus today. He was carrying a big red bag on his back. The boy opened the bag and took out a rabbit.”

As seen in the example, the boy is specified in the first two sentences. By the third sentence we already know which specific boy that the speaker is talking about, so the article turns to the definite one, i.e. “the”.

 

  • Just as it is with indefinite articles, we can use “the” when we want to make a general statement about a particular group. For example:

“The shark is not really a dangerous animal.”

Here, the speaker is not talking about a specific shark, but is rather sharing his perception on sharks in general.

“The heart is responsible for circulating blood throughout the body.”

Similarly, here, the speaker speaks about the role of heart in the human body, thereby making a statement about hearts in general.

 

  • We also use “the” when speaking about musical instruments:

I’m learning the piano.
Sherlock plays the guitar very well.

 

  • While speaking about a particular service or system:

“The train”, “on the radio”, “the police”

 

  • While making statements about groups of people that can be specified with an adjective such as “rich, poor, old, unemployed” etc.

“Life can be very easy for the rich.”
“Helping the disabled is everyone’s duty.”

 

Use of the definite article “the” with particular nouns:

  • “The” cannot be used with proper nouns:

“Ankara is the capital of the Republic of Turkey.”

“Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.”

 

  • “The” is used with names of states that include “Kingdom”, “States” and “Republic”.

The United Kingdom / The United States / The People’s Republic of China

 

  • Countries whose names are plural are also used with “the”.

“the Netherlands” / “the Philippines”

 

  • Geographical formations, landforms are all used with the definite article “the”.

The Atlantic Ocean / The Amazon / The Himalayas

 

  • Names of newspapers:

The Daily Mail / The New York Times / The Wall Street Journal

 

  • Landmarks and artworks:

The Great Sphinx / The Coliseum / The Tower of London / The Eiffel Tower

The Mona Lisa / The Sunflowers

 

  • Organizations, associations, institutions:

The European Union / The United Nations

 

  • Names of hotels, bars, restaurants:

The Plaza Hotel / The Seafood Restaurant / The River Cafe

Please note that “the” cannot be used for the names of venues with the name of the owner in it:

Jackson’s Hotel / Hedrick’s Pub / Chef Geatue’s Restaurant

 

  • Family names:

The Browns / The Heidelbergs

 

  • Natural events such as night, day, rain, wind, etc.

The nights get longer in the winter.

The rain is pouring down.

 

  • While speaking about a particular defined period of time:

He could swim faster in the past.

This dance was very popular in the 1990s.