Many English learners struggle with small grammar words called articles.
There are two kinds of articles: the definite article the and the indefinite articles a or an. There is a lot of confusion about when you should use a, an or the!
In this English grammar lesson, you’ll learn the difference between definite and indefinite articles, and when to use them.
1. Indefinite articles
A and an are indefinite articles. They mean the same thing. An is used before a noun that starts with a vowel sound.
Here are some examples:
She’s eating an apple.
Let’s eat lunch in an hour.
The first letter of hour is the consonant H, but when you say hour, it starts with a vowel sound!
Microsoft is a US company.
The acronym US is short for United States. The first letter is the vowel U, but it starts with a consonant sound /ju/!
Use a or an when you are talking about one of something, but you are not talking about something specific.
Do you have a pen?
(One pen. Any pen will do. I’m not looking for a specific pen.)
LEARN MORE: How to use articles to talk about one of something
2. Definite article
The is the definite article. Use the when you are talking about something specific.
Do you have the pen I gave you last week?
(I’m looking for a specific pen. The exact pen I’m looking for is the one I gave you last week.)
LEARN MORE: When NOT to use “the”
3. Indefinite and definite articles in a sentence
I saw a bike yesterday. The bike was green and it had a small basket on the front of it.
When you introduce something for the first time in a sentence, use a or and. When you talk about the same thing again, use the.
In the first sentence, I introduced the topic: a bike. In the second sentence I used the bike because now everyone knows which bike I am talking about: the bike that I saw.
This was A very helpful website!
Guillermo Medianero says
Do you know what? You just saved my life !!! I am doing my prac to teach Spanish. I was looking for this information because I needed to reinforce students knowledge about Spanish articles. As you may know romance languages and english have this n common and you put this info so clear that I need to say thank you !!
thank u teacher
teacher..i have a question…when we use definite article the and when we use indefinite article “a” and “an” before the word FATHER in sentence.and when we write FATHER without any article ?
Can you give me an example sentence?
1. When you are talking about your own father, or someone’s father, use a pronoun: my father, his father, or her father.
2. Use ‘a father’ when you are just talking about one of something.
3. Use ‘the father’ when you use the structure ‘the father of.’
Here are some example sentences I thought of,
“He’s a father now! He & his wife just had a baby.”
“He became a father when he was 35.”
“Mr. Smith has been like a father to me.”
“Mr. Smith is not the father of Jen’s child.”
“James Naismith is the father of basketball.” (He invented basketball.)
“Who’s the father (of this child)?”
In Christianity, The Father is part of the Holy Trinity.
Teache i have examples of “father” used without article. 1. Father is courageous. 2.Father was angry yesterday. 3.father reads the ramayana. 4.father has gone to office today.please tell me why in these sentences father is used without article.and teacher u say that use “the fathe” when we use the structure “the father of” but i have an example of “a father” used in the structure “a father of”.example: Mr. Smith, a father of five. Why it is used in this way?and also tell me that can we use the same rule(as you gave above 3 rules) with the word mother,uncle etc.thanks again teacher.
A. No article:
1. Father is courageous.
2. Father was angry yesterday.
3. Father reads the ramayana.
4. Father has gone to office today
Are these examples from a children’s book or a beginner English book? They sound like the kind of sentences that explain what is happening in a picture. These aren’t sentences that an adult would say.
An adult would say, “My father is courageous.” or “Her father was angry yesterday.”
B. Mr. Smith, a father of five.
This is a description of someone. Using the article ‘a’ is fine here. Mr. Smith could also say,
“I am a father of five.”
C. Yes, you can use all names for family roles this way.
“She is the mother of Mr. Smith’s children.”
“Mrs. Smith is a mother of five.”
these examples from 10th class book.thank u teacher.now my concept is clear.thanks again for your help teacher.
Thank you for the comprehensive explanation about articles.
I have two questions, requiring enlightment.
“I fell in love with my wife at first sight. ”
Do you feel “at first sight” and “at the first sight” are different?
“I will have lunch with my boss today”
“I will have a lunch with my boss today”
Does the addition of “a” make you feel the sentences are varied?
Thank you in advance.
Another question came to me.
I read a sentence, “each employee is given a handbook on company policy.”
It is a handbook of the specific company, talking about the policy of the specific company.
Why isn’t it written as each employee is give a handbook on “the” company policy.
Thank you very much for your time in advance.
Good questions! I added both your messages to one comment to make it easier to reply to them.
“At first sight” and “have lunch with someone” are collocations. Collocations are words that go together in a way that sounds natural and correct to a native speaker. In these collocations, no article is used at all.
“I fell in love with my wife at first sight.”
“I am having lunch with my boss today.”
You can read more about collocations here:
“Each employee is given a handbook on company policy.”
The only “rule” I could find about this is in Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage (section 70.4):
When a noun modifies another noun, the first noun’s article is dropped.
Both company and policy are nouns. Company here acts like an adjective to describe policy, but it is still a noun. No article is needed when using the collocation company policy.
I sent my comments a few days ago but I cannot find a reply so I have to ask again
In your comments you explained the uses of the definite article on the examples of the zoo
I went to the zoo and saw kangaroos, some kangaroos and the kangarooos
My question is sometimes soeaker automatically use the definite article without introducing the referenet
Lyons says that the indefinite article is neutral when it comes to uniquness
For instance I see examples like
a school in our neighbourhood was closed. Once I saw such an example and there was one school in the area when I checked, but the authir introduced the indefinite article instead of the. On the other hand I see autiomatically the introduction of the definite article
the school in our area was closed
or a Starbucks on Downing stree t was closed
we still don’t know if theer i one or one of many
sometimes when we talk about associations we immediately use the definite article. After we start talking about the zoo we talk about the animals. In all suh examples I saw thet when phrases and precedded by the preposition they are definite but in big cities , in big districts
auhtors use the indefinite article or one
the rule is generally when we introduce something for the first time we use the indefinite articlde. This is a passage from a book
I went into the room, looked at a mirror and a bed
but if we start with the words bed immediataly
the bed in the rooom it is possible because it envokes association
so why does the author of the sentence
a church in my area organises trips to… didn’t use the despite the fact that there ws one church?
or two churches in my area are pen between
he could have said all the churches in my area
Once I have read that only when we assume the listener’s knowledge is strong enough we can introduce the, otherwise we should use a unless there is a clear association
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