All You Need To Know About The Articles in English Grammar

Ever wondered what those words are before nouns that you see everywhere? Well, look no further; here, we will explain the grammar in an easy bitesize way so you can soon be the master of using articles!

What are articles?

In its most basic form, the article's in English grammar work like adjectives; in fact, they are a type of adjective because they modify nouns. There are three articles in English:

  • The
  • A
  • An

These three articles function differently in helping define a noun as definite or indefinite.

Articles

Definite Article: Definition and Examples

The definite article 'the' is always used before a noun when the identity is known or common. You can use it before a singular, plural, or uncountable noun.

Example sentences using 'the':

  • Let's go to the cinema tonight.
  • The girls are outside playing.
  • Where's the subway?
  • I'm not sure where the hospital is.
  • What's the name of the restaurant?

Let's look at the following example, using 'the and a.'

  1. I'd like a bar of chocolate.

V.S.

     2. I'd like the bar of chocolate!

The 1st example doesn't specify what type of chocolate bar is wanted. However, in the 2nd example, it’s known what chocolate bar is wanted.

The Indefinite Article: Definition and Examples

The indefinite articles, ''A and An', are used before a general noun or when a noun's identity is unknown or unspecific, but they have specific grammatical structures.

The Indefinite Article: 'A'

'A' is used before a singular noun, beginning with an English consonant sound. For example:

Instead of saying:

  • A peppers

You would say:

  • A pepper

Pepper begins with the consonant sound 'p,' meaning we use the article 'a.' The indefinite article also indicates that the pepper in question is singular, so we don't add -s at the end.

Note: If the pepper is plural (peppers), you use 'the.'

Example sentences using a:

  • Mary asked her Mom to bring a box of cookies over.
  • Only a few years ago, we decided to move house. 
  • I don't have a fax machine.
  • John really wanted a new computer.
  • What a horrible day!

The Indefinite Article: 'An'

Likewise, 'an' is used before non-specific nouns, for example:

  • I need to take an umbrella today.

V.S.

  • I need to take the umbrella today!

In the 1st example, the umbrella is a non-descript one, whereas the 2nd umbrella is likely one the person already owns.

'An' is also used with singular nouns that begin with a vowel sound. So,

Instead of saying:

  • A orange

You would say:

  • An orange

This is because the word orange begins with the vowel sound 'o,' so you use the indefinite article, 'an.'

Example sentences using an:

  • I've never been on an airplane.
  • I don't need an umbrella.
  • We have an encyclopedia. 
  • Why don't you take an orange?
  • She was an only child; she didn't have any siblings.

To understand how to use these articles in English, it's also important to understand that nouns, which articles modify, are either countable or uncountable.

Articles with Countable Nouns: Rules and Examples

Nouns can be countable or uncountable, meaning you can identify precisely how many there are of that particular thing or not.

With singular countable nouns, we either use 'an or 'a.'

Countable nouns are ones that you can place a valued number on; for example:

  • A Child
  • A Dog
  • An Apple

Example sentences using 'an' with singular countable nouns:

  • I want an ice cream, please.
  • I'd like to see an elephant in its natural habitat one day.
  • What's on the agenda today? Well, we've got an appointment at 8:15.

Example sentences using 'a' with singular countable nouns:

  • Let's take a trip to London in the summer.
  • I've got a few things on my work desk; I need to organize them. 
  • Have you packed a big bag for the flight?

Articles with Uncountable Nouns: Rules and Examples

However, some nouns are uncountable, meaning they can't be divided into a number value.

'The' can be used for all nouns, including uncountable ones, but we never use 'an' or 'a' with uncountable nouns.

For example:

  • Milk 
  • Sunshine
  • Music 
  • The Dogs

These nouns are modified by 'the.'

As you can see with the noun dog, without the plural -s, it can be countable and therefore uses 'a'; however, with the addition of -s, we use the article 'the' as its plural.

Example sentences using 'the' with uncountable nouns:

  • The dogs are playing outside. 
  • The sunshine is beautiful today!
  • Did you listen to the music I sent you?

When Is An Article Not Necessary? 

Although articles are used in almost every sentence, sometimes they aren't necessary, referred to as the zero article phrase.

Singular, countable nouns always need an article to precede them. However, plural and uncountable nouns don't always require an article.

Generally speaking, you aren't required to use an article in the following circumstances:

  • When using mass nouns. (Literature)
  • When using proper nouns. (London) 
  • When referring to means of transport. (by train) 
  • When expressing time or place. (Midnight)

Example sentences without an article:

  • We studied literature in school. 
  • I'm going there by train. 
  • The concert starts at midnight.
  • Water is coming through our ceiling.

Definite Articles vs. Indefinite Articles: Tips and Tricks

Here are a few tips and tricks to remember what article you need to use and whether you even need one!

  • If a noun is definite, meaning you are referring to something specific, use 'the.
  • If a noun is indefinite, meaning you are referring to something unspecific, use 'a, or an.'
  • If a noun begins with a vowel sound, use 'an.'
  • If a noun begins with a consonant sound, use 'a.' 
  • If a noun is singular and countable, use 'a' or 'an.'
  • If a noun is uncountable or plural, use 'the.'
  • Using an article is not always necessary if a noun refers to a place or time, type of transport, etc. 
  • If a mass or proper is used, it's not always necessary to use an article.

More Parts of Speech: