Using articles in English (a, an, and the)
Using articles in English can be very difficult as there are a lot of rules to remember. In this lesson, we will look at when to use ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’.
Read the sentences:
- She has a dog.
- She doesn’t have a cat.
- The dog is 4 years old.
1. The indefinite article – A or AN
Examples of use of indefinite articles: Do you have a pen? I need an umbrella.
2. The definite article – THE
Examples of use of definite articles: The boy lives at home. Here is the book I borrowed.
Below are the common rules for when to use articles.
Articles – rule #1
We use ‘a’ or ‘an’ when there are many of something and you are talking generally about a single one.
Do you have a pen I can borrow? (it doesn’t matter which pen)
I would like an apple (it doesn’t matter which apple)
Articles – rule #2
We use ‘the’ when there is only one of the thing we are talking. It could be that it is unique, or it could that there is only one that you could logically be talking about.
The sun rises in the east. (it is unique – there is only one sun)
Have you fed the dog? (the people speaking only have one dog and they both know which dog they are talking about)
Who’s the girl over there? (we identify the girl so now the speaker and listening know which one)
Articles – rule #3
We use ‘a’ in front of words that begin a vowel sound, and ‘an’ in front of words with a consonant sound (this is very important – it is NOT spelling, just the sound of the word).
Vowels: a, e, i, o, u
Consonants: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z
- a potato
- a carrot
- an egg
- an apple
- an hour (the word hour sounds like ‘our’, so has a vowel sound to start)
- a university (the word university sounds like ‘you-niversity’ so has a consonant sound to start).
Articles – rule #4
We use ‘a’ or ‘an’ the first time we talk about something; we use ‘the’ for the second, third, fourth etc time we talk about it.
She has a dog and a cat. The dog is friendly but I don’t like the cat.
Click here to try the ‘Using articles in English’ exercises.