1. We use the indefinite article, a/an, with count nouns when the hearer/reader does not know exactly which one we are referring to:

Police are searching for a 14 year-old girl.

2. We also use it to show the person or thing is one of a group:

She is a pupil at London Road School.

 

Police have been searching for a 14 year-old girl who has been missing since Friday.

Jenny Brown, a pupil at London Road School, is described as 1.6 metres tall with short blonde hair.

She was last seen wearing a blue jacket, a blue and white blouse and dark blue jeans and blue shoes. 

Anyone who has information should contact the local police on 0800349781.


3. We do not use an indefinite article with plural nouns and uncount nouns:

She was wearing blue shoes. (= plural noun)
She has short blonde hair. (= uncount noun)

 

Police have been searching for a 14 year-old girl who has been missing since Friday.

Jenny Brown, a pupil at London Road School, is described as 1.6 metres tall with short blonde hair.

She was last seen wearing a blue jacket, a blue and white blouse and dark blue jeans and blue shoes

Anyone who has information should contact the local police on 0800349781.

 


4. We use a/an to say what someone is or what job they do:

My brother is a doctor.
George is a student.

5. We use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind:

A man needs friends. (= All men need friends)
A dog likes to eat meat. (= All dogs like to eat meat)

 Exercise

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Comments

Dear LearnEnglish Team,
It is well-known that in expressions with a number of places there in no article after a preposition. For example, My sister is at school.
But what about these sentences? My aunt is a teacher. She works at a (?) school. My aunt is not at school now.
Yours sincerely,
Dina

Hello Dina,

We use an article or not depending on how we view what we are talking about. We use such prepositional phrases without an article when we are focusing on the activity in the place. For example, if we say 'My sister is at school', we're focusing on what she is doing there (studying, spending her daily time there, etc.), not merely her location – in fact, she could be at any school in theory. If we use an article, we are thinking more of the place as a specific location.

It's a subtle distinction which is not always important, but I hope that helps you make sense of it!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for the answer, Kirk!

Hello,

Could you please explain how this stance:

"5. We use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind: A man needs friends. (= All men need friends)"

is different from the one one from the next article (about "the"):

"to say something about all the things referred to by a noun: The wolf is not really a dangerous animal (= Wolves are not really dangerous animals)"

To me this situations look the same, but this article advises to use "a", and the next article prescribes to you "the" in such situations. Which is correct?

Thank you.

Hello bugmenot,

Peter M wrote a lengthy explanation of this a few months ago. Please take a look at it and then if you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask us.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello
One and 'a' have similar meaning. For example in the following sentences:
Pick a boy from the team.
Pick one boy from the team.
Can we use 'one' and 'a' interchangeably in this sense ? Is there a difference between their meanings?

Thanks

Hello naghmairam,

In most cases we would use 'a' here. We would use 'one' when for some reason it is important to emphasise that one and not two or three (etc) will be picked. In other words, 'one' would be used when there is a possibility of confusion about the number.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi
Sometimes I hear people say "an a book" or "an a word to ..." or so on. Could I have more info about these consecutive articles using?

Hello HSCD,

Phrases such as 'an a book' or 'an a word' are not correct. Perhaps what the people meant was 'and a book' or 'and a word'? When speaking quickly, the word 'and' can be pronounced as 'an' or even just 'n'. Would that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank Kirk for the comment and the link. It is really helpful. Best wishes to you! :D

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