Let’s get started with a general review of the articles in English. There are three of them: “a,” “an” and “the.” The most basic distinction is between the indefinite articles (“a” and “an”) and the definite article (“the”). We use “a” before a consonant sound, and “an” before a vowel sound. Both of them are used for singular, countable nouns. For example:
|~ I’ve got a car.|
|~ He’s never seen an elephant up close.|
As you can see in both of the examples above, we use the indefinite article before a singular, countable noun. In the first sentence, we are saying that I have ‘one’ car. In the second sentence, we are saying that he has never seen ‘one’ elephant up close.
Here we encounter the first very common mistake made when using the indefinite articles in a sentence. As mentioned before, they’re used for SINGULAR countable nouns. Consider the following sentence:
|~ We use the word ‘many’ for a things we can count.|
This sentence has a glaring error in it. “A things”…the word “things” has the article “a” in front of it, but it’s in the plural! In this case, we simply don’t use an article before the word ‘things’: We use the word ‘many’ for things we can count.
Something that needs to be covered when discussing articles is that when we talk about things in general in English, we often put the word in the plural and we don’t put an article in front of it. If the word doesn’t have a plural form, then we use it on its own, without an article. For example:
|~ I like dogs.|
|~ Blood is thicker than water.|
Notice that we didn’t put any articles before the nouns in either of the above sentences. Now it’s time to look at the definite article, “the.” We use it before both consonant and vowel sounds (the pronunciation is the only thing that changes), and it’s often used to refer to something specific.
|~ The book on the table is mine.|
|~ The house on the left is beautiful.|
However, there are other situations in which we can use the definite article. If a country is plural in form, but put the definite article in front of its name. To talk about rivers, seas, oceans, and mountain chains, we also use the definite article. Let’s go over some examples:
|~ The United States is in North America.|
|~ The Nile is the longest river in the world.|
|~ The Alps are great for skiing!|
Phew! I think we have enough material to chew on for now. To practice what we’ve gone over here, try the practice exercises at the bottom of the page!