How to Use Articles in English Grammar

What are Articles

Articles in English grammar are words that give information about a noun or noun phrase. There are only three articles in English grammar; they are divided into two categories known as definite articles and indefinite articles. Definite articles indicate something specific whereas indefinite articles indicate something nonspecific. ‘The’ is the only definite article, and ‘an’ and ‘a’ are the two modifiers that fall into indefinite articles. 

Many non-native English learners find the use of article a problematic area in grammar. Using the following guidelines can help you to overcome these problems.

How to Use Articles in English Grammar

How to Use A and An in English Grammar

A and an are indefinite articles, i.e., they are used with nonspecific nouns and refer to any member of a group. For example,

I want a puppy for my birthday. (any puppy)

She wanted to talk to a doctor about her condition. (any doctor)

The main difference between a and an is that a is used with nouns that begin with consonant sounds whereas an is used with nouns that begin with vowel sounds. A and an are always used with singular, countable nouns.

When to Use A and An

A and an are used in the following contexts.

Referring to something for the first time

I saw a man on the road.

Would you like a drink?

He found a good job.

Indicating the membership in a particular group

He is an American.

She is a Buddhist.

Her father is a lawyer.

After words such as ‘what’ and ‘such’

What a pretty girl!

Such a waste!

When Not to Use A and An

  • A and An should not be used with something that has been already mentioned (specific, or definite thing)
    How to Use Articles in English Grammar - 1

    She is a teacher.

How to Use The in English Grammar

The is used with specific or particular nouns. In other words, it refers to a particular member of a group. The can be used with both singular and plural nouns. For example,

I smiled with the teacher. – Here we are talking about a particular teacher.

He picked up the book. – Here we are talking about a particular book.

When to Use The

The should be used to define or identify a particular person or object

The man who owns this shop is a miser.

I live in the large house with the iron gate.

The should be used to refer to people/objects that are unique

The king ordered his execution.

The earth revolves around the sun.

The should be used in front of an adjective to refer to a whole group of people

She donated her whole salary to the poor.

The rich has no pity for the poor.

The should be used before superlatives and ordinal numbers

He is the fourth child in the family.

She is the shortest girl in the group.

The should be used with clauses introduced by only

He is the only child in the family.

Andre was the only man who volunteered.

The should be used with decades

This was a fashion in the 1930s.

The nineties saw a new direction in music.

The should be used with names of geographical areas: oceans, rivers, canals, mountain ranges, and groups of islands

The Nile is the longest river in the African continent.

Sri Lanka is known as the pearl of the Indian ocean.

The should be used with countries with plural names and countries that include the words “republic,” “states” or “kingdom.”

He traveled to the Philippines.

They are from the United States of America.

The should be used with the names of famous buildings, monuments, works of art, and museums.

The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom.

The original Mona Lisa painting is in the Louvre museum. 

The should be used with names of families (not with names of individuals)

We dined with the Jacksons.

The Obamas are their friends.

How to Use Articles in English Grammar

Adam lives in the Netherlands.

When Not to Use the The

The should not be used with people’s names

Mary had a little lamb.

Tom Harrison didn’t like school.

The should not be used with names of countries (except with countries mentioned above)

I visited India.

She is from France.

The should not be used with names of languages

He speaks Hindi, Arabic and German fluently.

Madame Anderson taught French at our high school.

The should not be used with professions

He is a teacher, and her wife is a doctor.

Her brother is a mechanic.

The should not be used with years

I was born in 1989.

He returned to Paris in 2005.

The should not be used with names of individual mountains, lakes, and islands

He wanted to climb Mount Everest.

They went to Long Islands.

The should not be used with most names of towns, streets, stations and airports

They got married in Las Vegas.

Canberra is the capital of Australia.

The should not be used after the ‘s possessive case

Give me your mother’s purse.

This is my sister’s son.

The should not be used with titles when combined with names.

Prince Albert was named the crown prince.

President Obama was the chief guest.

Summary

A and An should be used 

  • to refer to something for the first time
  • to indicate the membership in a particular group 
  • after words such as what and such

The should be used 

  • to define or identify a particular person or object
  • to refer to people/objects that are unique
  • in front of an adjective to refer to a whole group of people
  • before superlatives and ordinal numbers
  • with clauses introduced by only
  • with decades
  • with names of geographical areas: oceans, rivers, canals, mountain ranges, and groups of islands
  • with countries with plural names and countries that include the words republic, states or kingdom 
  • with names of famous buildings, monuments, works of art, and museums

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.


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