Indefinite article: a and an
A or an means one person or thing. We use a or an:
1) before singular nouns: I’ve been to a concert. We had a great day and we saw an elephant.
2) before the name of a job:
My sister wants to be an engineer.
A or an?
Use a before consonant sounds: a chair, a horse, a laptop
This includes letters u or eu when they are pronounced y (/j/): a university, a euro
Use an before vowel sounds. These words usually start with a, e, i, o, u: an architect, an idea, an umbrella
Also use an with words that start with the letter h when the h is not pronounced: an hour,an honour
Definite article: the
We use the:
1) before singular nouns that we have already mentioned with a/an:
We saw an elephant. The elephant was standing under some trees.
2) before singular, plural or uncountable nouns when we say exactly which person or thing we mean:
The people who live next door are really nice.
Where’s the brown sugar?
Note that we don’t use the before plural and uncountable nouns when we are talking about things in general:
Children need plenty of exercise and fresh air. (children in general)
Sugar isn’t good for you. (sugar in general)
3) We also use the before singular, plural or uncountable nouns when it is clear which person or thing we mean:
I’m going to the supermarket. (the one we always go to)
The children are upstairs. (our children)
Could you shut the door? (the door of this room)
4) We use the before nouns when there is only one:
The sun is shining and there aren’t any clouds in the sky.
5) We use the with superlatives:
You’re the best dad ever!
6) We use the in many expressions with ‘of‘
In the middle of the night
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
At the end of my holiday
The or zero article?
Here are some rules:
Use the with
- Countries with plural names or with Republic or Kingdom in the name: The United Arab Emirates, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom
- Geographical areas in noun phrases: I live in the north-west of Egypt, in the east
- The names of rivers, seas, oceans and mountain ranges: The Mississippi, The Black Sea, The Atlantic, The Urals
- Parts of the day: in the morning/afternoon/evening
- Most prepositional phrases of position and place: at the top, on the left, at the office/bank/cinema
Use zero article (-) with
- The names of most countries, cities and continents: Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Warsaw, Beijing, Europe, Asia
- Geographical areas in adjective phrases: I live in (-) north-west Egypt, (-) eastern France
- The names of single mountains and lakes: Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Titicaca
- Exact days, months and times: on (-) Friday, in (-) March, at (-) 7 o’clock
- Some prepositional phrases of place: at (-) home, at (-) work, in (-) bed, at (-) sea
Take note: school/university, etc.
There is a special rule for these places: school, university, college, hospital, prison, church. Compare these examples:
The children go to school by bus. I go to the school to help twice a week.
Ben’s studying maths at university. He works in the canteen at the university.
She was in hospital for three weeks. Is there a shop in the hospital?
If someone is at the place because they are a student / are sick / a prisoner, etc, we don’t use the. If they are there for another reason, or we are talking about the building, we usethe.
Articles and adjectives
Adjectives go between articles and nouns: What a great place this is! I went on an amazing trip. We went to the famous Bondi beach.
We usually pronounce a/an with a weak vowel sound /ə/ (‘uh’). It sounds like the vowel sound in fun, and not the vowel sound in cat.
Before consonants and the letters u or eu when they are pronounced y (/j/), we pronouncethe with this weak sound /ə/, too.
the doctor, the party, the uniform
But when the is before a vowel sound, we pronounce the with the long ee sound in see.
the afternoon, the ice, the open door, the upstairs rooms
Secrets of schwa
Schwa is a short vowel sound.
It is the most common sound in the English language.
It is never stressed.
The sound schwa is very important to natural english.
It appears in many words of more than one syllable.
It is the sound of many grammar words like articles and prepositions when they are not stressed.