Indefinite articles – a and an
A and an are the indefinite articles. They refer to something not specifically known to the person you are communicating with.
A and an are used before nouns that introduce something or someone you have not mentioned before
- “I saw an elephant this morning.”
- “I ate a banana for lunch.”
- “I am an English teacher.”
- “I am a builder.”
You use an when the noun you are referring to begins with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u)
Pronunciation changes this rule. It’s the sound that matters, not the spelling. If the next word begins with a consonant sound when we say it, for example, “university” then we use a. If the next word begins with a vowel sound when we say it, for example “hour” then we use an.
We say “university” with a “y” sound at the beginning as though it were spelt “youniversity”.
So, “a university” IS correct.
We say “hour” with a silent h as though it were spelt “our”.
So, “an hour” IS correct.
You use the when you know that the listener knows or can work out what particular person/thing you are talking about.
- :“The apple you ate was rotten.”
- “Did you lock the car?”
You should also use the when you have already mentioned the thing you are talking about.
- “She’s got two children; a girl and a boy. The girl’s eight and the boy’s fourteen.
We use the to talk about geographical points on the globe.
- the North Pole,
- the equator
We use the to talk about rivers, oceans and seas
- the Nile, the Pacific, the English channel
We also use the before certain nouns when we know there is only one of a particular thing.
- the rain, the sun, the wind, the world, the earth, the White House etc..
However if you want to describe a particular instance of these you should use a/an.
- “I could hear the wind.” / “There’s a cold wind blowing.”
- “What are your plans for the future?” / “She has a promising future ahead of her.”
The is also used to say that a particular person or thing being mentioned is the best, most famous, etc. In this use, ‘the‘ is usually given strong pronunciation:
- “Harry’s Bar is the place to go.”
- “You don’t mean you met the Tony Blair, do you?”
We usually use no article to talk about things in general:-
- Inflation is rising.
- People are worried about rising crime. (Note! People generally, so no article)
You do not use an article when talking about sports.
- My son plays football.
- Tennis is expensive.
You do not use an article before uncountable nouns when talking about them generally.
- :Information is important to any organisation.
- Coffee is bad for you.
You do not use an article before the names of countries except where they indicate multiple areas or contain the words (state(s), kingdom, republic, union). Kingdom, state, republic and union are nouns, so they need an article.
- No article – Italy, Mexico, Bolivia, England
- Use the – the UK (United Kingdom), the USA (United States of America), the IrishRepublic
- Multiple areas! the Netherlands, the Philippines, the British Isles
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