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Indefinite articles - a and an (determiners)


There are three articles in English: a, an and the.

There are two types of articles indefinite 'a' and 'an' or definite 'the'. You also need to know when not to use an article.

Indefinite articles - a and an (determiners)

A and an are the indefinite articles. They refer to something not specifically known to the person you are communicating with.

A and an are used before nouns that introduce something or someone you have not mentioned before:-

For example: "I saw an elephant this morning." "I ate a banana for lunch."
For example: "I am an English teacher." "I am a builder."

A and an are also used when talking about your profession:-


You use a when the noun you are referring to begins with a consonant You use an when the noun you are referring to begins with a vowel

There are two ways to pronounce "the". One "thuh" and the other "thee". To learn when we use them see the pronunciation files: How to pronounce "the".
Strong pronunciation Weak pronunciation

You use the when you know that the listener knows or can work out what particular person/thing you are talking about.

For example: "The apple you ate was rotten." "Did you lock the car?"

You should also use the when you have already mentioned the thing you are talking about.

For example: "She's got two children; a girl and a boy. The girl's eight and the boy's fourteen."
For example: the North Pole, the equator

We use the to talk about geographical points on the globe.

We use the to talk about rivers, oceans and seas

For example: the Nile, the Pacific, the English channel

We also use the before certain nouns when we know there is only one of a particular thing.

For example: the rain, the sun, the wind, the world, the earth, the White House etc..

However if you want to describe a particular instance of these you should use a/an.

For example: "I could hear the wind." / "There's a cold wind blowing." "What are your plans for the future?" / "She has a promising future ahead of her."

The is also used to say that a particular person or thing being mentioned is the best, most famous, etc. In this use, 'the' is usually given strong pronunciation:

For example: "Harry's Bar is the place to go." "You don't mean you met the Tony Blair, do you?"

!Note - The doesn't mean all:-

For example: "The books are expensive." = (Not all books are expensive, just the ones I'm talking about.) "Books are expensive." = (All books are expensive.)
Inflation is rising. People are worried about rising crime. (Note! People generally, so no article)
For example: My son plays football. Tennis is expensive.

You do not use an article when talking about sports.

You do not use an article before uncountable nouns when talking about them generally.

For example: Informationis important to any organisation. Coffeeis bad for you.

You do not use an article before the names of countries except where they indicate multiple areas or contain the words (state(s), kindom, republic, union). Kingdom, state, republic and union are nouns, so they need an article.

For example: No article - Italy, Mexico, Bolivia, England Use the - the UK (United Kingdom), the USA (United States of America), the IrishRepublic Multiple areas! the Netherlands, the Philippines, the British Isles

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