There are two types of articles: indefinite and definite.

1. The indefinite article

The indefinite article is a or an.

  • The form a is used before consonants, the vowels { u, ew, eu } when these have the phonetic sound juː, or the vowel { o } if it sounds like w.

    A cat. A university. A European. A one-time opportunity.

  • The form an is used before a vowel or a mute { h }.

    An airplane. An hour.

Rules of the indefinite article

The indefinite article is used:

  • Before a singular countable noun when its mentioned for the first time and represents no particular person or object.

    A plane crossed the sky. An angel appeared.

  • Before a singular countable noun which is used as an example of a class of objects.

    A spider has eight legs. A star twinkles.

  • With a noun complement, including names of professions.

    He is a good boy. I am a teacher. She became a dancer.

  • In expressions like a lot of, a great many of, a great deal of, or in expressions of measure, price, ratio, time, speed or weight (a couple, a dozen, half a dozen, a score, a gross, a hundred, a thousand, a million).

    I felt a great deal of pain. One dollar a pound. Twice a day. She bought a dozen eggs.

  • With few and little.

    I saw him a few days ago. He is a little worried about the exam.

    If the word only is added at the beginning, it usually emphasizes that the number or amount is really small in the speaker’s opinion. This emphasis can also be expressed by omitting the article.

    We had only a few minutes to eat. We had few minutes to eat.

  • In exclamations before singular, countable nouns.

    What a day!

  • To express the meaning of one.

    Not a sound was heard. Birds of a feather flock together.

  • The form a can be placed before Mr/Mrs/Miss + surname.

    A Mr. Smith walked into the room

    This means that a man called Mr. Smith, stranger to the speaker, walked into the room. Compare it with the meaning of following sentence.

    Mr. Smith walked into the room.

  • With some idiomatic phrases like: all of a sudden; as a rule; to be in a hurry; to give a guess at; to have a headache, a pain, a cold; to have an opportunity; to take a seat.

    All of a sudden the lights went out. Please take a seat and feel at home.

  • After many, quite, such, etc.:

    This was such a difficult test.

The indefinite article is not used:

  • Before plural nouns (the indefinite article has no plural form).

    A dog. Dogs.

  • Before uncountable nouns.

    Advice, baggage, furniture, information, luggage and news are singular and uncountable nouns in English. These are usually preceded by: any, a little, a lot of, a piece of, some, etc.

    I need a piece of advice. She gave me some news.

    Knowledge is considered uncountable, except when used in a particular sense.

    Nowadays a knowledge of English is necessary to get a job.

    Hair is considered uncountable, except when each hair is considered separately.

    The boy pulled a hair from the cat.

    Materials like cloth, coffee, glass, iron, paper, stone, tea, wood, etc. are considered uncountable and these are also usually preceded by: any, a little, a lot of, a piece of, some, etc., but if the noun denotes a specific object, then it takes an article.

    I need a piece of paper. Would you like some coffee?

    I drink a glass of wine everyday. She is writing a paper on car accidents.

  • Before abstract nouns (beauty, death, fear, hope), except when they are used in a particular sense.

    She had a beauty beyond compare.

  • Before names of meals, except when they are preceded by an adjective, or when the meal is a special meal given to celebrate something.

    I had dinner. I went to have some dinner.

    I had an early dinner. I went to a dinner given to honor the Queen.

2. The definite article

The definite article is the.

  • This article is the same for singular and plural, and for all genders.

    The boy. The boys. The girl. The girls.

  • The word the is pronounced ðiː or ði before a vowel or a mute { h }, and ðə before a consonant.

    The apple. The honor. The girl.

Rules of the definite article

The definite article is used:

  • Before nouns of which there is only one, or which are considered as one.

    The sea. The sky. The Gulf of Mexico.

  • Before a noun that has become definite as a result of being mentioned a second time.

    Yesterday a car crashed against a tree, today the car was still there.

  • Before a noun made definite by the addition of a phrase or a clause.

    The man next door. The boy with his dog.

  • Before a noun which, by reason of locality, can represent only a particular thing.

    Turn off the radio (the only radio in the house).

  • Before singular nouns used to represent a class of objects.

    The cat is curious by nature.

  • Before an adjective used to represent a class of persons.

    The dead should remain undisturbed.

  • Before superlative adjectives.

    He is the richest man in Mexico.

  • Before names of rivers, seas, chains of mountains, groups of islands and plural names of countries.

    The Pacific Ocean. The Alps. The USA.

  • Before musical instruments.

    He plays the piano everyday.

  • Before names of special meals given to celebrate something.

    Many celebrities attended the dinner given to honor the Queen.

  • After all, both, double, half, etc.

    Half the team arrived late to the game.

The definite article is not used:

  • Before proper names, although there are some exceptions.

    I’m taking a trip to England.

    I’m going to take a trip to the Netherlands. The Smiths (= Mr. and Mrs. Smith).

  • Before parts of the body and clothes (a possessive adjective is usually preferred in these cases).

    Raise your right hand (instead of: raise the right hand).

    She patted his head (this could be expressed as: she patted him on the head).

    Please take my coat.

  • Before abstract nouns except when they are used in a particular sense.

    The army advanced without fear.

    Many people travel long distances to appreciate the beauty of flowering cherry trees.

  • Before indefinite plural nouns.

    Fifty years ago women weren’t allowed to vote. Children should obey their parents.

  • Before home when the noun is not preceded or followed by a descriptive word or phrase.

    I’m going home. She arrived home late at night.

  • Before bed, chapel, church, college, court, hospital, market, prison, school, sea and work when they are visited or used for their primary purpose.

    I’m going to bed. We went to church. He was sent to prison.

    We went to the church to see a small sculpture of the Virgin Mary.

    But before cathedral, cinema, office and theatre, the article is used.

    I’m going to the cinema. John is at the office.

3. Exercises

Each of the following sentences has one or more errors. Find them and correct them.

  1. He broke the leg in a accident.
  2. The milk is good for children.
  3. We have the two dogs.
  4. She is teacher, so she has to have a patience.
  5. The prisoner remained silent, he did not say the word.
  6. Let’s see the movie, please turn on a TV.
  7. The women should stay at the home and take care of a children.
  8. My father is at the work.
  9. My son is learning to play a guitar.
  10. What a big dogs!
  11. I need to find an information about computers for my homework.
  12. My wife likes to have the breakfast in bed every Sunday.
  13. We went to hospital to visit a uncle.
  14. My wife bought a new furniture for the living room.

Complete (as needed) these sentences with a suitable article or expression.

  1. What ___ awful hat!
  2. ___ office had ___ lunch at ___ fancy restaurant.
  3. ___ fresh beans are necessary to make ___ good coffee.
  4. Windows are made of ___ glass.
  5. The doctor was in ___ hurry.
  6. Can you tell me ___ time?
  7. I need to take these pills ___ day.
  8. Let me give you ___ advice.
  9. Both ___ boys were hungry.
  10. Could you please give me ___ sugar?