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English Grammar

A - AN - THE

Definite and Indefinite articles in English.


A - AN   :

A and AN are indefinite articles used with a singular non-specific countable noun.
Examples:
'A chair' refers to any chair, not a specific chair.
'An umbrella' refers to any umbrella.

WHEN TO USE 'A' or 'AN':

A is used before a word that begins with a consonant or a consonant sound :
Usage is determined by pronunciation, not by spelling, and this includes abbreviations and acronyms.
• a consonant (b, c, d, f, g, etc.) : a man / a table / a game / a dog / a car / a bottle
• a vowel that is pronounced like "yu" : a European /a university/a user 
• the vowel 'o' when it has a 'w' sound a one-way street /a one-track mind

An is used before a word that begins with a vowel or a vowel sound:
• a vowel  (a, e, i, o, u, etc.) : an animal / an elevator / an orange  
• an unaspirated 'h' : an hour/an honest man/an heir
• an abbreviation starting with a vowel sound: an MBA, an MD ('em' sound) 

THE :

The
is a definite article used to talk about something specific.
  • The town where Julie lives is very big.
  • What book is Julie reading? She's reading the book she got for her birthday.
  • Let's make a cake. We'll make the cake you like best.
The is also used to refer to:
  • Rivers, seas, oceans :
    • the Mississippi river, the Mediterranean sea, the Atlantic ocean
The is often used before a singular noun to refer to a whole class (animals, plants, instruments, inventions ...) :
  • the elephant is a very big animal (= all elephants are big).
  • the pine tree grows well in many areas.
  • the telephone was invented by Alexander Bell.
Note: Pronunciation
Normally, "the" is pronounced with a short sound (the cat, the dog...), but when "the" comes before a vowel sound, it is pronounced with a long sound [thee] (the army, the event, the opposition, the umbrella...).

NO ARTICLE :

No article is used in generalisations:
  • I like music
  • Children can be noisy.
  • Frozen food is handy.
  • I watch television but I listen to theradio and I go to the cinema.
  • I don't play tennis but I play the piano, the guitar, etc.
No article is used for place names (towns, countries, states, mountains, lakes) :
  • London, Spain, America, Long Island, Mount Everest, Loch Ness ...
Except if plural :
  • The Greek islands, The United States, The Alps, The Himalayas ...

Try an exercise below :

online exercise  |  printable version |  more exercises


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