Articles

Articles are used as modifiers for nouns. However, some nouns do not need to be modified. In this lesson, we will learn about them.

What Are Articles in English?

What Are Articles?

Articles are a type of determiner used to introduce and modify nouns in a sentence. They are small words that come before a noun and provide information about it.

Why Do We Use Articles?

Articles are used to specify or indicate whether a noun is specific or nonspecific in a sentence. They are essential for clear communication, as using different articles for the same noun can alter the meaning of a sentence. Compare the following examples:

She is the doctor.

Here we mean the doctor that we mentioned before and we want to refer to what we meant.

She is a doctor.

In this example, we mean her job is being a doctor like other doctors.

Articles: Types

Articles can be categorized into two groups based on whether they are used to refer to a specific or general noun:

Here are a few examples:

Give me the book. (definite article)

I need a book to help me learn about quantum physics. (indefinite article)

Definite Article

The definite article 'the' is used to modify nouns that are specific; by specific, we do not mean that the noun is a proper noun, we mean it is known to the listener and the speaker.
Usually, we use the definite article when the noun has already been mentioned and introduced. Here are some examples:

The butter was melting in the oven.

I saw a man at the station; the man was wearing a mask.

How to Use the Definite Article?

The definite article 'the' can be used with both singular or plural countable nouns and even with uncountable nouns. For example:

The old man is standing at the corner.

The chairs were being fixed.

The bread was well-baked.

Indefinite Article

Indefinite articles are used with non-specific nouns. Usually, we use indefinite articles to refer to a noun for the first time. Indefinite articles in English are 'a' and 'an'. For example:

An apple fell from the tree.

I need to buy a new car.

'A' vs. 'An'

With nouns that start with a vowel sound, we have to use the indefinite article 'an'. However, if the sound of the initial letter of the following noun is not a vowel, the indefinite article 'a' is used. Here are the examples:

I cannot find an envelope to put the letter in it.

In this example, 'e' has a vowel sound and the sound is /e/.

A baby was left alone at the central park.

The sound of the consonant letter is /b/ and it is not a vowel, so we use the indefinite article 'a.'

definite and indefinite articles

Tip!

With abbreviations and acronyms that are spelled out or pronounced with a vowel sound in the beginning, the indefinite article 'an' is used; even if the letter is a consonant. Check out the examples:

I got an MBA from the best university ever.

How to Use Indefinite Articles

Indefinite articles are only used with singular countable nouns. They cannot be used with plural countable nouns or uncountable nouns. Here are some examples:

✗ They are a books.

✗ I had a honey for breakfast.

✓ I have an idea.

Zero Article

Sometimes there is no need to use an article to modify the noun. In this case, we are actually using a zero article. Check out the examples:

Marcus is too kind. (Not 'the Marcus' or 'a Marcus')

Science is my favorite field. (Not 'a science' or 'the science')

When To Use Zero Article

Here are the most common groups of nouns which do not need an article before them:

  • languages
  • games and sport
  • places
  • days and months
  • names of people
  • academic subjects
  • meals

Position in a Noun Phrase

To make a correct noun phrase a special word order must be followed. It's important to remember that in some cases, the use of certain determiners may exclude the use of articles, resulting in the use of 'zero articles'. For example, possessive and demonstrative determiners are used without articles. The word order to be followed is:

  • quantifier + article + number + adjective + head noun

Here are a few examples:

All the bad habits that I have are because of you.

In this example, the word order is quantifier + article + adjective + the head noun.

Give me my delicious food.

Here, the word order is possessive determiner + head noun with zero article.

Review

Based on whether an article defines a specific noun or not, they are categorized into two groups, as follows.

  1. definite article (the)
  2. indefinite article (a,an)

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Demonstrative Determiners

Demonstrative determiners in English are this, these, that and those. They are used to identify the person or thing that is being referred to.

Indefinite Determiners

Indefinite determiners are determiners that express quantity or the indefinite ideas of quality. They agree in number and gender with the noun they modify.

Relative Determiners

Relative determiners modify nouns within a relative clause. Follow the article to learn more about them.

Indefinite Articles

The indefinite articles in English language are 'a/an'. They refer to a noun for the first time or a general noun when its identity is unknown.

Definite Article

The definite article in English language is 'the'. It is used before a noun to show that the noun is known to the reader. Learn about this useful article!

Zero Article

Some nouns and noun phrases are used with no articles preceding them. In this article, we will learn about them.
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