ARTICLES: a/an AND the – GENERAL USE
Have you ever been in a situation like this?
Ivan has recently started to study English. He is a journalist and his boss told him that if he wants to get a better paid position, he has to know English better.
One of the things causing problems to Ivan is articles. Since Ivan is from Croatia and Croatian doesn't have articles, it is very hard for Ivan to understand how articles function and when to use them.
Every time he writes a text in English, he gets most of the articles wrong.
He doesn't know what to do. How can he learn how to use articles correctly?
So, what can you do in a situation like this one?
How can you learn when to use articles?
I've been teaching English to many students worldwide and I have noticed that many of them have one thing in common - they have problems with the use of articles. They don't know when and how to use them properly.
In this English lesson, we're going through the basic rules of the use of articles.
What are indefinite and definite articles?
The simplest definition of an indefinite article is that it is used for something that is not defined yet, that is, something that is mentioned for the first time.
On the other hand, a definite article is used for something already defined, something that is already mentioned.
When something is first mentioned, you can usually use a/an.
I bought a new bag.
When you mention the same thing again, use the.
The bag that I bought yesterday wasn’t expensive.
The relationship between a/an and the is like the relationship between someone/something and a personal pronoun (he,she,it).
I saw a man/someone hiding behind the door.
The man/He was wearing a hoodie.
A man/someone is indefinite; the man/he is definite.
However, we all know that in English language there are many exceptions to the rule.
Let’s see some examples.
Keep reading and learn MORE TIPS TO IMPROVE your English Grammar.
A/an can also be used when referring to something specific.
I’m looking for a bag. It’s a pink one. I saw it in the shop window yesterday. (a specific bag)
You can use a/an when describing something, especially when you use a phrase with an adjective like big, beautiful. We use a/an before the noun, even though it is obvious which one is meant.
You’re a beautiful little girl, aren’t you?
This is a big house.
You can sometimes do this in a phrase without an adjective.
The lack of a proper medical service is a disgrace.
You can also use a/an in a noun phrase to classify something.
What kind of dog is that? A poodle, isn’t it?
A/an is also used in phrases that refer to (1) someone’s nationality or beliefs, or to (2) talk about a person’s job.
(1) The winner was an Australian.
(2) My sister is a teacher.
We sometimes use the at the beginning of a story. This puts the reader in the middle of the action.
A murder had happened in the house, the owner told Jenny. – Using the, the reader is put in the middle of the action, as if they already know what house and what owner.
Use the when something is unique in the context.
The captain of the ship ordered the crew to set sail. - We use the because in the context of sailing, there is only one captain of the ship.
The sun was shining. – We cannot say A sun was shining because we all know that there is only one sun in our solar system.
Use the when a phrase or clause comes after the noun and shows which one is meant.
I’d like to meet the guy who stood you up.
But if the phrase or clause does not give enough information to show which one is meant, we use a/an.
We live in a house overlooking the lake. – This means that there are a few houses overlooking the lake, and that we live in one of them.
If we say We live in the house on the lake shore, this would mean that there is just one house on the lake shore and we live in that specific house.
We often use the when an of-phrase follows the noun.
We live on the shore of a lake.
But you can use a/an in an of-structure expressing quantity.
I got a new piece of information.
We normally use the with superlative adjectives.
Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world.
The is also much more common than a/an in noun phrases with first, last, next, only, right, same, and wrong.