Want to learn more about the use of articles in English? Read this article for detailed guidelines on article usage in English language.
Use Of Articles In English
There are three articles in English language viz., "A", "An", "The". While these make for important parts of speech, there are also times when no article is necessary; so, while speaking or writing English, you have to decide out of the four choices. This leads to a great confusion at times. In the absence a proper article which precedes a noun, a sentence might sound absurd and strange to an English speaker. So it is important for learners to have a proper guideline for making the right choice, particularly those learners whose native languages do not have articles, such as Japanese or Korean. Though, in modern times, there has been a great leniency in the usage of grammar in English language, yet there are some hard and fast rules still left whose misuse might create confusion and make people frown. Here are all of the rules which must be followed while using an article. Read the article below to fathom the concept of article usage in English language.
Article Usage In English
The Usage Of Indefinite Articles "A" And "An"
- "A" and "An" stand for an indefinite noun, referring to any singular entity of a particular group. For example,
“The kid needs a toy." This refers to any toy without pinpointing a particular toy.
The usage of “A” or “An” depends upon the beginning sound of word that it is placed before. For example,
“Somebody call a policeman!" This refers to any policeman.
"When I was at the zoo, I saw an elephant!" Here, we're talking about a single, non-specific elephant, out of perhaps several elephants at the zoo.
“A” is used before a singular noun beginning with a consonant e.g. a toy, a bike, a pen, a doll etc.
“A” and “An” are subject to the following exception in spoken and written English.
“An” is used for a singular noun beginning with a vowel e.g. an apple, an egg, an idiot, an orphan etc.
“A” can also stand before a singular noun beginning with a vowel if the pronunciation of the word is such that it sounds like it begins with a consonant. For e.g., a user. Here, the word sounds like 'yoo-zer,' i.e. it starts with a vowel ‘u’ but sounds like it starts with the consonant 'y' so 'a' is used. Similar is the case with a university, a unicycle, a universal fact, etc.
Same rules are applicable for acronyms as well. Acronyms that start with vowels or vowel-like sounds appear with ‘an’, while those that either start with consonants or consonant-like sounds, take on the article ‘a’. For example,
“An” is also used when the word that follows starts with a silent "h" e.g. an hour, an honest man, etc. However, if “h” is pronounced as “h”, then “a” is used like a horse, a house, etc.
An ICaP memo generally discusses issues concerning English 106 instructors.
Indefinite articles are also used to indicate membership in a group. For Example,
A UFO was seen hovering about the White House yesterday.
I am a teacher.
Brian is an Irishman.
Seiko is a practicing Buddhist.
Definite Article "The"
Definite article can be used before singular and plural nouns depending upon the uniqueness and specificity of a particular noun. For example,
- "The dog that bit him ran away." Here, the statement refers to a specific dog that bit ‘him’. Since it is not just an indefinite dog, ‘the’ is used.
- "I was delighted when I saw the policeman who saved my life!" Here, also the statement refers to a particular policeman hence a definite article.
- “The earth revolves around the sun”. Here, sun and earth are unique and well-defined objects/nouns hence definite article ‘the’ is used.
Countable & Uncountable Nouns
- Definite article “the” can be used with countable as well as uncountable nouns. For example,
"I love to sail over the Indian Ocean" (or any specific body of water).
"A” and “An" can be used only with countable singular nouns. For example,
"He spilled the milk all over the floor" – it indicates some specific milk; may be the milk you had at home. "He spilled milk all over the floor" indicates any milk that might have been spilled.
“The washing machine has been at the mechanic’s for over a week now”. (Singular and specific nouns also call for definite articles)
"Give me a glass of water."
"I want a bottle of milk."
“She is an angry person.”
“Give me an answer and I will let you go.”
Geographical Use Of "The"
There are certain specific rules which must be followed while using articles in spoken and written English.
Never Use 'The' Before
- Names of countries/territories: Italy, Mexico, Bolivia, India, etc. However, if the name suggests that the country is an amalgamation of various small independent states, then ‘the’ can be used. For e.g., the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the United States, etc.
- Names of cities, towns or states: Seoul, Manitoba, Miami
- Names of streets: Washington Blvd., Main St., etc.
- Names of lakes and bays: Lake Titicaca, Lake Erie except with a group of lakes like the Great Lakes.
- Names of mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Fuji except with ranges of mountains like ‘the Andes’ or ‘the Rockies’.
- Names of continents (Asia, Europe)
- Names of islands (Easter Island, Maui, Key West) with exception to island chains like ‘the Aleutians’, ‘the Hebrides’ or ‘the Canary Islands’.
'The' Must Be Used Before
- Names of rivers, oceans and seas e.g. the Nile, the Pacific, etc.
- Points on the globe e.g. the Equator, the North Pole, etc.
- Geographical areas e.g. the Middle East, the West, etc.
- Deserts forests, gulfs, and peninsulas e.g. the Sahara, the Persian Gulf, the Black Forest, the Iberian Peninsula, etc.
- Specific and unique nouns like earth, sun, moon, etc.
Some More Specifications
- Do not use articles before names of languages e.g. Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian but when you are referring to the population of the nation you must use “The” e.g. "The Spanish are known for their warm hospitality."
- Do not use articles before names of sports e.g. volleyball, hockey, baseball. You can say ‘a baseball game’.
- Articles are never used when referring to the names of academic subjects e.g. mathematics, biology, history, computer science.
- While using “Such”, “What” and “How” as an exclamation with singular nouns, “A” or “An” is used. For e.g., “Such a beautiful girl!” or “What a joke!”.
- With the word “Many”, “A” or “An” is often used to depict the multitude or countlessness of objects e.g. Many a boy is absent today.
Many rules govern the usage of articles and the optimum understanding of all these is a must to having a well-honed and error-free language. Hope this article shed some light on article usage for you.