Definite and indefinite articles the a an


There are three articles in English: a, an, and the. Articles are used before nouns or noun equivalents and are a type of adjective. The definite article (the) is used before a noun to indicate that the reader knows what the noun is. The indefinite article (a, an) is used before a common noun or when its identity is unknown. There are certain situations where a noun does not need an article. As a guide, the following definitions and table summarize the basic usage of the article. Read below for a detailed explanation of the rules and examples of when and how to apply them.

specific article

that (before singular or plural nouns)

Indefinite article

a (before singular nouns starting with a consonant)
an (before singular nouns starting with a vowel)

Count Noun – Refers to an item that can be counted and can be either singular or plural.

Uncountable noun – refers to an item that cannot be counted and is always singular

Nouns are important, but nouns are not important
Rule 1
Specific identity unknown a, an (no article)
Rule #2
a specific identity known as
Rule #3
all things or things in general (not articles) (not articles)

To understand how articles are used, it is important to know that nouns are either countable (countable) or uncountable (indefinite and uncountable). Additionally, count nouns are either singular (one) or plural (plural). Uncountable nouns are always singular. For example, if you spill water on a table, there may be one drop (singular) of water on the table, or there may be two or more drops (plural). The word “drop” in this example is a counting noun because we can count the number of drops. Therefore, according to the rules governing the counting of nouns, the word “drop” uses the article “a” or “the”.

But if we’re talking about spilled water on the table in general, it’s not appropriate to count water as one or two. It would just be water on the table. Water is an uncountable noun. Therefore, according to the rules that apply to uncountable nouns, the word water does not use an article or the, but it does not use an article.

Below are three specific rules that explain the use of definite and indefinite articles.

Rule 1 – Specific identity is unknown: Use the indefinite article a or an only with singular nouns whose specific identity is unknown to the reader. Used before nouns that start with a consonant and before nouns that start with a vowel.

Use the articles a or an to indicate unspecified members of a group or category. I think there’s an animal in the garage
This man is a villain.
We are looking for an apartment.

To indicate a number (rather than plural), use the article a or an.
I have two cats and a dog.

Use the article ‘a’ before consonants and ‘an’ before vowels. boy, apple

◊ An adjective may be included between the article and the noun.

Unhappy boy, red apple

The plural of a or an is some. “Some” is used to indicate an unspecified, limited quantity (but more than one).
One apple, several apples

Rule #2 – Known Specific Identity: Use the definite article with a noun (singular or plural, numeric or non-numeric) if the specific identity of the noun is known to the reader, as in the following situations: Use the.

Use the article “the” when a specific noun has already been mentioned.
I ate an apple yesterday. The apples were juicy and delicious. Articles are used when adjectives, phrases, or sentences that describe a noun clarify or limit its identity.
The boy sitting next to me raised his hand.
Thank you for your advice.

Use the article “the” when the noun refers to something or someone unique.
theory of relativity
2003 federal budget

Rule #3 – All things or things in general: Do not use articles with plural nouns or uncountable nouns that mean all things or things in general. The trees are beautiful in autumn. (All trees are beautiful in autumn.)
he asked for advice. (He asked for general advice.)
I don’t like coffee. (I basically don’t like all coffee.)

Additional information about using items

Use some to specify an unspecified, limited set of countable or uncountable nouns.
My cousin asked a counselor for advice (not general advice or advice on everything, just a limited amount of advice). I want to drink coffee right now (not coffee in general, but coffee in limited quantities).

It might rain tomorrow. Some rain would be good for crops (not general rain, but some amount of rain).

There are water drops on the table (there are a limited number of them, but there are more than one).

Uncountable nouns are nouns that cannot normally be counted. Below are some common examples.
◊ Specific foods and drinks: bacon, beef, bread, broccoli, butter, cabbage, candy, cauliflower, celery, cereal, cheese, chicken, chocolate, coffee, corn, cream, fish, flour, fruit, ice cream, salad, Meat, milk, oil, pasta, rice, salt, spinach, sugar, tea, water, wine, yogurt

◊ Certain non-food substances: air, cement, coal, earth, gasoline, gold, paper, oil, plastic, rain, silver, snow, soap, steel, wood, wool

◊ Most abstract nouns: advice, anger, beauty, confidence, courage, employment, fun, happiness, health, honesty, information, intelligence, knowledge, love, poverty, contentment, truth, wealth

◊ Research fields: history, mathematics, biology, etc.

◊ Sports: Football, soccer, baseball, hockey, etc.

◊ Language: Chinese, Spanish, Russian, English, etc.

◊ Others: clothing, equipment, furniture, homework, jewelry, luggage, wood, machinery, mail, money, news, poetry, pollution, research, scenery, transportation, traffic, violence, weather, work

Geographical names can be confusing because some require them and others do not.
◊ Areas of use: United States, major regions, deserts, peninsulas, oceans, seas, bays, canals, rivers, mountains, islands

gobi desert
United Arab Emirates
sacramento river
Aleutian Islands

◊ Do not use this: roads, parks, cities, states, counties, most countries, continents, bays, individual lakes, individual mountains, islands

san francisco bay

Article usage examples

I don’t want to have a gun in my house (any gun).
The weapon is in his closet (meaning it’s a specific weapon).
I’m scared of guns (guns in general).

She sent me a postcard from Italy (not a letter or email, not a specific postcard). This is a postcard (specific postcard) in my office.
Receiving postcards makes me want to travel (postcards in general).

I have a dog (dog).
The dog is very friendly (the one I introduced earlier).
Dogs are great pets (dogs in general). Greta needs furniture for her apartment (furniture is an uncountable noun).
She chooses her necessary furniture (specific furniture she needs).
She hopes to find some furniture (unspecified and limited in quantity) this weekend.

This weekend she’s going to see the Statue of Liberty (the only Statue of Liberty).