Grammar Scholar: Understand everything about Articles

By Gaurav Singh Bhadouria|Updated : April 29th, 2020

Today we are here with the next session of Grammar Scholar Series. In this part, we will discuss "Articles". There are 3 articles in the English Language which are 'A', 'An', 'The'. The mistakes of Articles look very minor and unnoticeable in a sentence, hence candidates are very prone to committing such errors. So let's understand the proper usage, common mistakes and omission of articles.

Happy Reading!


Grammar Scholar: ARTICLES

  • An article is a word which defines a noun. Articles are determiners and not adjectives because they are always placed only before the noun, an adjective however can be placed before or after the noun.
  • Articles will tell the reader whether we are referring to a general or specific thing (Definite and Indefinite).

Now let's have a look at the following examples: 

  • I ate an apple yesterday. The apple was juicy and delicious. (In the first sentence, the apple is being introduced. In the second sentence speaker and listener both know about that apple.)
  • I have found a solution to the problem. (The solution is not yet known to the listener. The problem is known to the speaker and the listener)

  • A teacher needs patience. (General, Here we are talking about any teacher in random)
  • I would like to talk to the headteacher. (Specific, Here we are talking about a particular person who is a teacher)

  • You must consult the doctor. (Which doctor? It could be your family doctor.)
  • You must consult a doctor. (Which doctor? It could be any doctor. Here the speaker does not have a particular doctor in mind.)

 Types of Articles 

Articles are classified into two types, which are :

1. Definite Articles: The

2. Indefinite Articles: A, An

1. Definite Articles: 

The word "The" is called as a Definite article. "The" refers directly to a specific noun or groups of nouns. It means the Definite article is used to refer to a noun(Person/Thing etc), that has already been mentioned. "The" is used in a sentence when we are talking about a person or thing that is known to both the writer and the reader.

 Examples : 

  • Thank you for the advice you gave me.
  • The dog is very friendly

The definite article (the) can be used before singular countable nouns, plural countable nouns and uncountable nouns. We use "The" in the following conditions :

  • Use 'the' to refer to something which has already been mentioned :

Example: On Monday, an unarmed man stole $1,000 from the bank. The thief hasn't been caught yet.

  • Use 'the' to refer to people or objects that are unique. It means when there is only one of that particular thing.

Example:  The sun rose at 6:17 this morning.

  • Use 'the' before superlatives and ordinal numbers. Superlatives can be Attributive and predicative in nature. Attributive superlatives are always preceded by the article “the”. Predicative Superlatives do not take articles. Also when superlatives are used to compare the same person in different situations NO Article is needed.

Example: This is the highest building in New York.

  • Use 'the' with adjectives or to refer to a whole group of people.

Example: She has given a lot of money to the poor.

  • Use 'the' when referring to decades.

Example: He was born in the seventies.

  • Use 'the' with clauses introduced by only.

Example: The only tea I like is black tea.

  • Use 'the' with names of geographical areas, rivers, mountain ranges, groups of islands, canals, and oceans. Use 'the' with the names of famous buildings, works of art, museums, or monuments. 

Example: Our ship crossed the Atlantic in 7 days.
                 I would like to visit the Eiffel Tower.

  • Use 'the' with countries that have plural names. Use 'the' with countries having a noun pointing out the kind of state,“ republic”, “kingdom” “union” or “states” in their names.

Example : 

  • Do you know anyone who lives in the Philippines
  • She is visiting the United States. 
  • Use 'the' with the names of newspapers.

Example : 

  • I read an interesting article in the Dainik Jagran today.
  • Use 'the' with the names of families, not individuals.

2. Indefinite Article : 

There are two indefinite articles in the English Language, which are 'A' and 'An'. We differentiate between 'A' and 'An' on the basis of sound and not on the basis of spelling.

  • An is used before the words which begin with a vowel sound or a vowel. For example, an apple, an egg, an orange, an umbrella, an hour (H is mute when we pronounce hour), an heir etc. 
  • A is used before words which begin with the consonant sound or a consonant. For example, a boy, a tree, a ball, a flower, a horse, a hole, a European and a university.
  • Always pay special attention to the phonetics of the word.

The indefinite articles 'A' and 'An' are used in the following cases :

  • When you introduce a person or thing for the first time.

Examples :

  • If you are really hungry, you can eat an apple.
  • We are looking for an apartment.

 When not to use 'Articles'

1. Before uncountable nouns

We do not use articles before uncountable and abstract nouns used in a general sense.

  • Honey is sweet. (NOT The honey is sweet.)
  • Sugar is bad for your teeth.
  • Wisdom is better than riches.
  • Virtue is its own reward.

Note: Uncountable nouns take the article the when used in a particular sense.

  • Would you pass the sugar? (= the sugar on the table)

We cannot use the indefinite article or numbers with uncountable nouns.

  • Water (NOT a water) (NOT two waters)

2. Before plural countable nouns

We do not use articles before plural countable nouns used in a general sense.

  • Children usually rush about.
  • Computers are useful machines.

Note: Plural nouns take the article 'the' when they are used in a particular sense.

  • Where are the children? (Which children? Our children)

3. Before proper nouns

We do not use articles before the names of countries, people, continents, cities, rivers and lakes.

  • India is a democratic country. (NOT The India …)
  • Paris is the capital of France. (NOT The Paris …)

4. Before the names of meals

We do not use articles before the names of meals.

  • Mother is cooking lunch.
  • Dinner is ready.

We use a when there is an adjective before breakfast, lunch, dinner etc. We use 'the' when we are talking about a particular meal.

  • I had a late dinner yesterday.
  • The lunch we had at the restaurant was very good.

5. Before languages

We do not use articles before the names of languages.

  • Can you speak English? (NOT Can you speak the English?)
  • They speak French at home.

6. Church, university, school, prison, hospital; with these places when the reference is to the building or object we put “the” but when referring to the normal activities that go around there NO ARTICLE is needed.

  • We learned English at school.
  • He is at university.
  • I met her at the church. (Here the reference is to the building and not to the activity that is going on there.)
  • I went to the hospital to see my friend.

7. Before Profession - 

Do not use 'The' before any profession.

  • Engineering is a well-paid career.

 8. Before years :

Do not use the with years

Example: 1948 was a wonderful year.

Common Mistakes in the use of Articles :

The is used before these words when the reference is to the building or object rather than to the normal activity that goes on there.

Below we have mentioned some important rules regarding the correct usage of the articles. Understand them properly :

When you talk about a person or thing for the first time, use the indefinite articles (a and an) with them.

  • Incorrect: I saw the girl.
  • Correct: I saw a girl

Use the in subsequent references to that person or thing.

  • Incorrect: A girl was very beautiful.
  • Correct: The girl was very beautiful.

Use the indefinite article to talk about a person or thing not known to the speaker or the listener.

  • She is going out with a French guy. (NOT She is going out with the French guy.)

We can use 'the' in subsequent references to that person or thing.

  • The French guy she is going out with is an architect. (NOT A French guy she is going out with is an architect.)

Plural countable nouns can be used without articles, especially when we are talking about things in general.

  • Spiders have eight legs.
  • Computers are useful machines.
  • Apples are red.

A singular uncountable noun is used without an article.

  • Milk is nutritious. (NOT The milk is nutritious.)
  • Gold is precious. (NOT The gold is precious.)

This was all about this article. hope you will find this relevant to your exam preparation!



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