Definite and Indefinite Articles

What are articles in English?

Articles in English are the words that modify nouns to indicate whether they are definite or indefinite.There are only three articles in English.

  • The definite article: the
  • The indefinite articles: a & an

The article the can be used with both count (singular and plural) and non-count nouns, while a & an can only be used with count nouns because they roughly means “one.

The definite article: the

The is used before the following nouns:

–  A specific thing that both the speaker and the listener know

  • The principal is holding a meeting tomorrow.
  • The nearby mall has good sales.

The only one of something

  • The sun is bigger than the moon.
  • Paris is the capital of France
  • What is the heaviest animal in the world? (The is used before superlative adjectives.)

– Geographical nouns (like rivers, oceans, seas, canals, deserts, etc.)

the Nile / the Mediterranean / the Atlantic  

– Geographical points on the globe

the Equator / the North Pole

– Musical instruments, plants, animals and currencies.

the piano / the guitar  / the violin

– Currencies

the dollar / the Sterling pound

– A system or service

the train / the ambulance / the hospital

– Adjectives like rich, poor or brave to indicate groups of people.

  • The rich get richer, and the poor stay poor.
  • Only the brave deserve to live. 

– Some nationality names to describe the people of a country

the French / the English

– Names of countries when they contain the words state(s), kingdom, republic or union 

the United Kingdom / the USA / the Sudan 

– Names of countries that have plural nouns as their names

the Netherlands / the Bahamas / the Philippines

– Proper names that refer to newspapers, organizations, hotels, well know buildings, works of art and families  

the New York Times / the United Nations / the Holiday Inn / the Mona Lisa / the Eiffel Tower / the Smiths

The indefinite articles: a & an

The articles a & an modify singular count nouns only.

What is the difference between a and an?

  • A is used before singular nouns that begin with consonant sounds
  • An is used before singular nouns that begin with vowel sounds

Note: If the noun is preceded by one or more modifying words (adjectives or adverbs), we choose a or an depending on the initial sound of the word closest to the article.

a flower / a phone/ a banana / a building /a huge elephant 

an egg  / an apple / an orange/ an exciting story /an ink bottle


Some words begin with vowel letters, but we use a to modify them because the sound of the initial letter is consonant.

For example, the word university begins with the vowel letter u but it is pronounced  as a consonant /y/. So the article a is used to modify it. (Check the pronunciation of university here.)

On the other hand, there are some words that begin with consonant letters that are pronounced as vowels, so a is used to modify these nouns. 

For example, we use an before hour because the consonant h is silent. (Check the pronunciation of hour here.)

The indefinite articles a / an are used before the following:

– A thing in general

  • They need a car.
  • I have ordered a pizza.

– Professions

  • She is a nurse.
  • Being a teacher is not easy.

– One person or thing as a member of a group

  • Mr. Hadi is a teacher at our school..
  • This girl is a member of our basketball team.

– A singular noun to represent the whole kind

  • A lion is a fierce animal.
  • A dog is a sincere friend

When not to use an article before a noun?

Do not use an article before the following:

– Plural nouns and uncountable nouns when talking about them generally

  • Children need a lot of  love and care.
  • Plants supply us with oxygen.

– Names of continents, countries, cities, towns and villages, islands, mountains

Africa / Japan / LondonMount Rainier

– Names of streets, lakes and bays

– Sports, people’s first names,  languages, names of   shops, religions, meals, days, months and holidays.

Football / Jack / German / T-Mart / Islam / breakfast / Friday / January 

– Names of parks, hospitals, mosques, temples, churches, malls, stadiums, colleges and universities (except if we use “the University of …”), waterfalls, beaches and canyons (except the Grand Canyon)

Names of Illnesses or diseases

cancer / Typhoid / AIDS

(Except the flue / the mumps / the measles)

– Use a /an or the with most aches, pains and attacks.

  • She had a cold


– Do not use an article if the word of direction follows a verb.

  • They drove west.

– Use the after a preposition and compass directions.

 in the north of the country  / on the left / the South

Time Expressions

– Do not use articles with at night, at noon, every week, every day, every night, last morning, last week, all night, all day, tomorrow, yesterday,…

– Use the with in the morning, in the afternoon, during the night, the winter, the summer, the day after tomorrow,…

– Use a /an or the with whole and entire.

  • She worked a whole day to prepare for the presentation. (one day, not specified)
  • We worked the whole day convincing them of our idea. (a specific day)

  Take a quiz on definite and indefinite articles