ESL Grammar: Definite and Indefinite Articles in english (A, An, The)

ESL English grammar: Definite and Indefinite Articles

The English definite article in english is the. It is used to identify a particular person or thing. If you are speaking about someone or something you are already familiar with, you use the with the noun. Look at
these examples:
  • I already know the man.
  • She met the womenwho won the lottery.
  • This is the book that I told you about.
The indefinite article in english  is used to describe someone or something that is unfamiliar to you or about which you are speaking in general. There are two forms: a and an. Use a before a word beginning with a consonant. Use an before a word beginning with a vowel. Look at these examples:
  • He sees a stranger on the corner.
  • Did you buy an apple or an orange?
  • Is the woman a good lawyer?
  • She has an idea.
Compare the difference between the definite and indefinite article by using these sentences:
  • I want an apple. (I do not see an apple. But I feel hungry for one.)
  • I want the apple. (I am choosing between the apple and the orange that I see before me.)
The definite article for plural nouns is also the. But there is no indefinite article for plural nouns. The plural articles are used in the same way as the singular articles.

DEFINITE ARTICLE in  ENGLISH

THE

Articles in English are invariable. That is, they do not change according to the gender or number of the noun they refer to, e.g. the boy, the woman, the children

'The' in english is used:

1. to refer to something which has already been mentioned.

Example: An elephant and a mouse fell in love.
The mouse loved the elephant's long trunk,
and the elephant loved the mouse's tiny nose.

2. when both the speaker and listener know what is being talked about, even if it has not been mentioned before.

Example: 'Where's the bathroom?'
'It's on the first floor.'

3. in sentences or clauses where we define or identify a particular person or object:

Examples: The man who wrote this book is famous.
'Which car did you scratch?' 'The red one.
My house is the one with a blue door.'

4. to refer to objects we regard as unique:

Examples: the sun, the moon, the world

5. before superlatives and ordinal numbers: (see Adjectives)

Examples: the highest building, the first page, the last chapter.

6. with adjectives, to refer to a whole group of people:

Examples: the Japanese (see Nouns - Nationalities), the old

7. with names of geographical areas and oceans:

Examples: the Caribbean, the Sahara, the Atlantic

8. with decades, or groups of years:

Example: she grew up in the seventies

INDEFINITE ARTICLE in ENGLISH: A / AN

Use 'a'  in english  with nouns starting with a consonant (letters that are not vowels),
'an' with nouns starting with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u)

Examples:

A boy
An apple
A car
An orange
A house
An opera

NOTE:
An before an h mute - an hour, an honour.
A before u and eu when they sound like 'you': a european, a university, a unit

The indefinite article in english  is used:
to refer to something for the first time:

An elephant and a mouse fell in love.
Would you like a drink?
I've finally got a good job.
to refer to a particular member of a group or class

Examples:
with names of jobs:

John is a doctor.
Mary is training to be an engineer.
He wants to be a dancer.

with nationalities and religions:

John is an Englishman.
Kate is a Catholic.

with musical instruments:

Sherlock Holmes was playing a violin when the visitor arrived.

(BUT to describe the activity we say "He plays the violin.")

with names of days:

I was born on a Thursday


to refer to a kind of, or example of something:

the mouse had a tiny nose
the elephant had a long trunk
it was a very strange car

with singular nouns, after the words 'what' and 'such':

What a shame!
She's such a beautiful girl.

meaning 'one', referring to a single object or person:

I'd like an orange and two lemons please.
The burglar took a diamond necklace and a valuable painting.

Notice also that we usually say a hundred, a thousand, a million.

NOTE: that we use 'one' to add emphasis or to contrast with other numbers:

I don't know one person who likes eating elephant meat.
We've got six computers but only one printer.

EXCEPTIONS TO USING THE DEFINITE ARTICLE in ENGLISH

There is no article in english :
with names of countries (if singular)

Germany is an important economic power.
He's just returned from Zimbabwe.
(But: I'm visiting the United States next week.)

with the names of languages

French is spoken in Tahiti.
English uses many words of Latin origin.
Indonesian is a relatively new language.

with the names of meals.

Lunch is at midday.
Dinner is in the evening.
Breakfast is the first meal of the day.

with people's names (if singular):

John's coming to the party.
George King is my uncle.
(But: we're having lunch with the Morgans tomorrow.)

with titles and names:

Prince Charles is Queen Elizabeth's son.
President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
Dr. Watson was Sherlock Holmes' friend.
(But: the Queen of England, the Pope.)

After the 's possessive case:

His brother's car.
Peter's house.

with professions:

Engineering is a useful career.
He'll probably go into medicine.

with names of shops:

I'll get the card at Smith's.
Can you go to Boots for me?

with years:

1948 was a wonderful year.
Do you remember 1995?

With uncountable nouns:

Rice is the main food in Asia.
Milk is often added to tea in England.
War is destructive.

with the names of individual mountains, lakes and islands:

Mount McKinley is the highest mountain in Alaska.
She lives near Lake Windermere.
Have you visited Long Island?

with most names of towns, streets, stations and airports:

Victoria Station is in the centre of London.
Can you direct me to Bond Street?
She lives in Florence.
They're flying from Heathrow.

in some fixed expressions, for example:

by car
by train
by air
on foot
on holiday
on air (in broadcasting)
at school
at work
at University
in church
in prison
in bed

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