THE INDEFINITE ARTICLE – A, AN
- Before a singular countable noun – a dog, a man, an apple
- A / an has no plural form. In the plural, instead of a, we use either no word at all, or some:
This is a cat. These are cats.
That is a tree. Those are trees.
There is a dog. There are some dogs.
- It is used after to be / to become and before a noun which indicates a profession:
He is a student. She wants to become an actress.
- It has the meaning of ONE and is used in front of “large numbers”
A thousand, a hundred, a dozen, a million
- A / an is used when something is mentioned for the first time, but when the same thing is mentioned again, use the
I saw a man. The man was wearing a coat. The coat was black.
- A / an is used the same as one when it contrasts with two, three…
I’d like two cups of tea and a glass of milk.
- A / an also means “per” or “every” in phrases of measuring of frequency:
Once / twice / six times / …times – a day / a week / a month / a year
- A / an in proverbs and sayings
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
- A / an is used in phrases denoting speed, size, quantity, etc.
Sixty miles an hour. Two pounds a kilo.
- A / an also has a general use, which describes all examples of the same kind, or any examples of the same kind.
What is a dictionary? A dictionary is a book which tells you about the meanings of words.
If a man and a woman are in love, they will have a happy marriage.
A / an is used
- in phrases: a bit of, a few, a little, a great deal of, a good many, a large number of, a lot of..
- after such, what, quite, rather / What a nice young man! She was such a kind person. We had quite/rather a busy day.
- A piece of cake, a type of car,… many a man died in that battle.
- In front of a family name meaning “a certain, I don’t know who” – A Mr. Brown wants to see you, sir.
- in phrasese such as:
- It's a pity that...
- I want to keep this a secret
- As a rule
- To be in a hurry
- All of a sudden
- Bo be in a temper
- It's a shame
- To have a headache/a pain/a cold/ a cough
(BUT to have toothache, influenza)
- At a discount
- On an average
- A short time ago
THE DEFINITE ARTICLE – THE
The definite article (the) is the most common word in English. It can be used in front of any kind of nouns.
It is used when a noun is used for the 2nd, 3rd, etc. time. – see examples above.
It is used before a noun, and also before any adjectives or other words which describe a noun. E.g. the horses, the old horses, the five horses.
It is used before adjectives or pronouns without a noun – the others, the old, the young (people).
We place the before a noun phrase to show that it has a definite meaning: Where’s the cat? It’s under the kitchen table.
They have a son and two daughters. The son is working, but the daughters are still at high school.
It is used in front of nouns which are the only examples of a kind – the sun, the moon, the sky, the North Pole, the equator, the stars… the earth moves round the sun.
It is used in front of family name in plural to denote the whole family – the Simpsons.
It is used in front of geographical terms:
- Rivers – the Danube
- Canals – the Suez canal
- Oceans – the Pacific
- Seas – the Adriatic sea
- Groups of islands – the Bahamas
- Mountain ranges – the Alps
- Country names in plural – the United States, the Netherlands
- Official country names – The Republic of France (but: France)
It is used in front of names of cinemas, theatres, hotels, everything that can be called “man made buildings” – the pyramids, the Great Wall, the National Theatre, The Museum of Modern Arts, etc.
It is used in front of superlatives and ordinal numbers, same, and only – the first, the last, the best, the sixth, the same, the only thing…
It is used when we talk about people / animals / things in general and in front of nationality words.
The Italians are very keen on football.
We reported the theft to the police.
The rich should pay higher taxes, but not the poor.
The elephant is the largest animal on land.
It is used in front of inventions and musical instruments:
Modern society has to learn to live with the computer.
She plays the violin.
It is used in pattern the + comparative…the + comparative.
The more you learn, the more you will know.
The more she thought about it, the less she liked it.
The more, the merrier (a saying which means “the more people there are, the better it is”,)
THE OMISSION OF ARTICLES / ZERO ARTICLES
No article is used in such cases:
- Before plural nouns: We’re expecting a visitor – we’re expecting visitors.
- Before uncountable nouns: he picked a stone / the wall is made of stone.
- Before names: her name is Jane.
- Before continents, most countries, streets, parks, lakes, mountains / Asia, India, Oxford Street, Central Park, Lake Baikal, Mount Everest. (But: the lake of Ohrid )
- Before titles such as Mom, Dad, Uncle…
- Before uncountable nouns – water contains oxygen. We need salt, milk and sugar. But – the water you brought me.. Pass me the salt, please.
- Before seasons, time of day, days, abstract nouns, school subjects – I like spring. Come on Friday. I prefer history to mathematics. Love is beautiful. BUT if you talk about one specific thing, use the definite article. The spring of 2003 was hot. The love you gave me was something special.
- At night, by day, by night, at noon, after midnight, morning came. Night fell.
- In the morning. During the night. The next day.
- Before meals – What’s for dinner? But – the dinner we had yesterday was great.
- In some prepositional phrases of place
- He is in / she went to bed, class, hospital, prison.
- She is at / he went to church, college, school, university, sea, work.
- By-phrases describing means of transport and means of communication – I came home by car, by bus, on foot.
- In prepositional phrases idioms and in noun + preposition + noun idioms
- At speed, on foot, in front of, on top of, in line with, off colour, in turn, out of step – I’m feeling a bit of colour meaning not very well.
- Day by day, arm in arm, hand in hand, eye to eye, face to face, side by side.