Indefinite Articles for intermediate learners

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.

Indefinite Articles in English Grammar

What Are Indefinite Articles?

Indefinite articles are a type of determiner in English that are used to refer to any nonspecific or unknown noun of a particular type. They are used when the speaker is referring to a new or unspecified noun.

Indefinite Articles : A and An

When we want to talk about countable, singular nouns that are unspecified and unspecific, we use indefinite articles before them. There are two indefinite articles in English which are 'a' and 'an'. Let us see how they differ from each other.

A vs. An

When the noun that comes after the article begins with a vowel sound, we use 'an'. On the other hand, when the noun begins with a consonant sound, we use 'a' before it. Let us study the following examples:

I can buy a book.

As you can see, 'book' starts with a consonant therefore a is used before it.

She doesn't want to eat an apple.

Here, 'apple' begins with a vowel therefore an is used.

Warning!

Keep in mind that not all words that begin with a consonant letter, have a consonant sound and vice versa. Take a look at the following examples:

There's a university over there.

Here, the word begins with a vowel letter but it has a consonant sound.

It is an umbrella.

Here, the word begins with a vowel sound.

Indefinite Articles: Placement

Indefinite articles always come before nouns or noun phrases. Remember that choosing between 'a' or 'an' is based on the initial sound of the noun or noun phrase. Let us examine some examples below:

Sicily has a red truck.

He is a highly-skilled doctor.

Indefinite Articles: Uses

We use indefinite articles in various contexts. Below is a list of some of the most common uses of indefinite articles:

  • Referring to Something General
  • Referring to a Whole Group
  • Referring to Unspecific Dates

Now, let us see what each means:

Referring to Something General

When we want to talk about general and unspecific things, we use indefinite articles. Let us examine the following examples:

She saw a black cat on the street.

As you can see, the sentence is referring to an unspecific black cat.

Yesterday, he walked past an orange tree.

Referring to a Whole Group

Generally, when we want to talk about a specific group of people or a community, we can use indefinite articles. Let us study the examples below:

An introvert is a quiet person who does not really enjoy the company of others.

Here, the article is referring to a noun which indicates a whole group.

A dog has four legs.

Referring to Unspecific Dates

When we are talking about unspecific dates, we can use indefinite articles before them. Check out the following examples:

She went to the party on a Sunday night.

As you can see, it is an unspecified Sunday night.

Many people want to start exercising on a Saturday.

Tip!

It is useful to know that some uncountable nouns can be used with indefinite articles when they are accompanied by an adjective. Pay attention to the following example:

A traumatic childhood

'Childhood' is an uncountable noun but it is accompanied by an indefinite article because an adjective is used before it.

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