The Articles

Posted on Friday, May 1, 2020
The Articles

Definite and indefinite articles.

The two articles in English are a/an and the.

The word a (which becomes an when the next word begins with a vowel - a, e, i, o, u) is called the indefinite article because the noun it goes with is indefinite or general. The word the is known as the definite article and indicates a specific thing.

  1. Which words complete the sentence?
    There are two new students in my class, ____ boy and ____ girl.
    a. You don’t need a word in the spaces.
    b. the / the
    c. a / a.

  2. Which sentence is correct?
    a. Actor in this film is very talented.
    b. Actors in this film are very talented.
    c. The actors in this film are very talented.

  3. Which words go in the spaces?
    We saw ___ film yesterday. ___ film was about an explorer.
    a. a / a
    b. a / the
    c. the / a

  4. Complete the sentence.
    My mum doesn’t like ____. She thinks they are noisy.
    a. dog
    b. dogs
    c. the dogs

  5. Complete the sentence.
    Don’t look at ____. You will hurt your eyes!
    a. the sun
    b. sun
    c. a sun

The choice of article is actually based upon the phonetic (sound) quality of the first letter in a word, not on the orthographic (written) representation of the letter.

If the first letter makes a vowel-type sound, you use “an”; if the first letter would make a consonant-type sound, you use “a.”

However, you may follow these basic rules when deciding to use “a” or “an,” remembering that there are some exceptions to the rules.

“A” goes before words that begin with consonants.
a cat
a dog
a purple onion. a buffalo
a big apple

“An” goes before words that begin with vowels:
an apricot
an egg
an Indian
an orbit
an uprising


Use “an” before unsounded “h.” Because the “h” hasn’t any phonetic representation and has no audible sound, the sound that follows the article is a vowel; consequently, “an” is used.
an honorable peace
an honest error

When “u” makes the same sound as the “y” in “you,” or “o” makes the same sound as “w” in “won,” then a is used. The word-initial “y” sound (“unicorn”) is actually a glide [j] phonetically, which has consonantal properties; consequently, it is treated as a consonant, requiring “a.”
a university
a union
a united front
a unicorn
a used napkin
a U.S. ship
a one-legged man

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