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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 countable noun.
An indefinite article means that we do not know which person or thing is referred to, or it is of no importance.

Which to use:  'a' or 'an'?

The rule states that 'a' should be used before words that begin with consonants (b, c ,d etc.), while 'an' should be used before words that begin with vowels (a,e,i, etc.).

However, it should be noted that the usage is determined by pronunciation and not by spelling, and this includes abbreviations and acronyms.

A is used before a word that begins with a consonant or a consonant sound :
• a consonant (b, c, d, f, g, etc.) : a man / a table / a game / a dog / a car
• 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) 


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
  • Nationalities :
    • the British, the Americans, the Japanese, the Chinese, etc.

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 is used in generalisations:
  • I like music
  • Children can be noisy.
  • Frozen food is handy.
  • I watch television but I listen to the radio 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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