The articles a/an (the indefinite article) and the (the definite article) belong to a group of words called determiners. They normally go at the beginning of noun phrases.
- Alice is a financial advisor.
- She is working for an insurance company.
- I have been to the doctor.
- Can I talk to the manager?
What are articles used for?
Articles are used to show whether we are talking about things that are known both to the speaker and to the listener, or that are not known to them both. Articles can also show whether we are talking about things in general or particular things.
Points to be noted
A singular countable noun normally has an article or other determiner (my, this, her, some etc.) with it. We can say a dog, my dog, that dog or every dog, but not just dog.
- I saw a child in the store.
- They have a house in the city.
- Can I use your car?
- He is my friend.
- Who is that boy in the red shirt?
Plural and uncountable nouns can be used with or without an article or other determiner.
- Children usually rush about.
- Milk is rich in nutrients.
- Is there any milk in the bottle?
- Water is precious.
- Time is money.
The Definite Article
The is called the definite article because it is used to refer to a particular person or thing.
- Call the man waiting outside.
- Revenge is the main theme of this play.
To talk about a person/thing already mentioned
When a person/thing has been mentioned earlier, the definite article is used in later references to that particular person/thing.
- I saw a beggar near the bus stop; the fellow came to me with outstretched hands.
To talk about a person/thing known to the listener
We use the definite article (the) before a noun when we expect the listener/reader to know which particular person(s) or thing(s) we are talking about.
- Can I talk to the manager? (The listener knows which person is meant.)
- I have been to the doctor. (Which doctor? My doctor.)
- The book you want is out of print. (Which book? The one you want.)
- The child was crying. (Which child? The one I met in the store.)
- Let us go to the park. (Which park? The one in the town.)
To talk about unique things or events
We use the to talk about unique things or events.
- The French Revolution began in 1789. (Unique: because there has been only one French revolution.)
- The Nile is the longest river in the world.
Most nouns that represent things that are the only ones of their kind also take the before them.
Examples are: the sun, the moon, the earth, the city, the Nile, the country, the sea, the weather etc.
This use of the is possible even when we are talking about somebody/something that the listener knows nothing about?
- You don’t know the Hiltons, do you? (The use of the makes it clear that there is only one Hilton family in the speaker’s social environment.)
With expressions referring to our physical environment
The is used in a number of expressions referring to our physical environment.
Examples are: the town, the weather, the rain, the wind, the country, the sunshine, the sea, the city etc.
- I prefer the country to the city.
- The earth is the only planet that supports life.
With adjectives referring to a particular class of people
We use the before certain adjectives referring to a particular class of people.
Examples are: the blind, the dead, the poor, the disabled etc.
- The rich are not always happy.
- The accused was sent on bail.
- The educated should teach the illiterate.
Superlative adjectives take the before them.
- She is the eldest member in the family.
- The Nile is the longest river in the world.
With singular nouns that represent a whole class
We use the before a singular noun when it is used to represent the whole class of things to which it belongs.
- The lotus is a lovely flower.
- Can the leopard change its spots?
- The camel is the ship of the desert.
The indefinite Article
The indefinite article a/an is used to talk about one particular person or thing when the listener does not know which one is meant, or when it does not matter which one.
- She married an old man.
- They have a big house in the city.
- You had better consult a doctor.
- I saw a hawker selling his wares on the street.
- A man came and knocked at the door.
A/an is also used to talk about any one member of a class.
- A teacher must have patience. (=any teacher)
- A spider has eight legs. (=any spider)
- A dog is faithful to its master.
- A parrot can repeat what you say.
Cases where the indefinite article should not be used
With plural and uncountable nouns
The indefinite article cannot used before plural and uncountable nouns.
- Apples are red.
- Computers are expensive.
- Time is money.
We cannot use the indefinite article with possessives. We use double possessives instead.
- He is a friend of mine. (NOT He is a my friend.)
With adjectives without nouns
We cannot use the indefinite article with an adjective alone (without a noun).
- She is a beautiful girl.
- She is beautiful. (NOT She is a beautiful.)
Cases where articles should not be used
With uncountable nouns
Articles are not used with uncountable nouns when we make general statements.
- I love coffee. (NOT… a coffee OR the coffee)
- Milk is rich in nutrients. (NOT The milk OR a milk)
- We can’t do without water. (NOT The water OR a water)
- She likes reading books. (NOT…the reading books OR a reading books)
With the names of countries
We do not use articles with the names of countries.
- Japan is a developed nation. (NOT The Japan)
- I have been to England. (NOT…to the England)
- India is a secular republic. (NOT The India)
- He has just returned from South Africa. (NOT …the South Africa)
But we use ‘the’ if the name of the country or organization specifically states that it is a collection of states. (For example, The United States, The United Arab Emirates, The United Nations etc.)
- He is leaving for the United States tomorrow.
- The United Nations is an international organization of countries created to promote world peace and cooperation.
With the names of languages
We do not use articles with the names of languages.
- Hindi is the national language of India.
- It is not easy to learn French.
- English is spoken in many parts of the world.
With the names of meals
We do not use articles with the names of meals.
- We have lunch at midday. (NOT…the lunch)
- We have dinner in the evening. (NOT…the dinner)
- Breakfast is the first meal of the day. (NOT…the breakfast)
With proper nouns
We do not use articles with proper nouns (the names of people, places etc.)
- Alice is an architect. (NOT The Alice or a Alice)
- Mary is my friend. (NOT The Mary)
- Delhi is the capital of India.
But we use ‘the’ with plural names.
- We are having dinner with the Smiths.
- The Sharmas are very kind.
With titles and names
We do not use articles with titles and names.
- Princess Diana was killed in a car accident.
- President Kennedy was assassinated.
But we say, the queen of England, the President of USA
We do not use articles before years.
- India won freedom in 1947. (NOT…in the 1947)
- I was born in 1979.
With possessives and demonstratives
We do not use articles before possessives (my, your, their etc.) and demonstratives (this, that, these, those).
- This is my book. (NOT This is a my book.)
- I like this car. (NOT I like the this car.)
Articles are not used to talk about the coming or last day/month.
- See you on Friday. (=Coming Friday)
- We are leaving for the US next week. (NOT …the next week.)
But we use articles with the names of days of the week and months if we are talking about particular days or months.
- We met on a rainy Friday.
- It was a wet Monday in May.
- She died on the Thursday after the accident.