A, An or The?
Unlike many other languages, we use articles in front of different nouns. Keep in mind that an article is not always required. The three main articles are the, a and an. They are divided into “definite” or “indefinite” forms.
Definite articles are used to refer to a particular subject that is known. Indefinite articles refer to a general subject.
For example, when you are referring to a certain or specific dog, you might say, “I nearly hit the dog with my car.” If you are referring to dog in general, you’d say, “I almost hit a dog with my car.”
Here are a few more examples:
|the (definite)||a, an (indefinite)|
The use of the, a and an is dependant on the situation, not the word. For example:
- I am going to get a car today. “A” means any car, not a particular one.
- We are going to get the car today. “The” means that we are going to get a certain car. It is probably the one that is owned by the people referring to it.
Articles With Count(Countable) and Non-Count Nouns
There are various rules for using articles based on count and non-count nouns. Just follow the rules when deciding which one of the three to use.
- All three articles the, a and an can be used for count nouns.
- All singular count nouns require an article.
- Most of the time use a or an the first time a count noun is used or introduced.
- Use the with count nouns the second and following times after the count noun has been used.
- All three articles a and an cannot be used for non-count nouns unless there is a container word in front.
- Do not use an article if referring to a non-count noun in general or when it is first introduced.
- Use the with non-count nouns when the subject is known.
Here are a few examples of how to use articles with count and non-count nouns:
- I would like a bike.
- I like the bike in the window.
- Hand me the food on the table.
- Give me an apple to eat.
One of the exceptions is when a non-count noun is being used as a count noun. Here are a few examples:
- She would like to drink the coffee. The is used since the coffee is known. Coffee is a non-count noun in this example.
- I would like a coffee. A is used since it is referring to “a cup of coffee”. The container word cup is implied, making it a count noun. It is better to use container words, but in informal English people do use non-count nouns as count nouns.
A Or An Based On Sound Of The Word
Many students studying English accidently follow the rule that you use a in front of a noun starting with a consonant and an in front of a noun starting with vowel. The rule is:
- Use a in front of words with a consonant sound.
- Use an in front of words with a vowel sound.
The reason the rule states words instead of nouns is due to adjectives or container words that might be placed in front of the noun. Here are a few examples of how to use a or an based on the beginning sound of the word:
- I would like an apple.
- He is a monk.
- She has an unusual nose. An is used since the adjective unusual is in front of the noun nose.
- I visited a European country last year. A is used due to the beginning sound of European, even though it starts with a vowel.