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

We use the indefinite article, a/an, with count nouns when the hearer/reader does not knowexactly which one we are referring to:
Police are searching for a 14 year-old girl.

We use the indefinite article, a/an, with count nouns when the hearer/reader knows exactly which one we are referring to:

“I have house”
Not
“I have a house” > because hearer/reader knows exactly which one we are referring to

2-We also use it to show the person or thing is one of a group.
5. We use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind.
"I would like a cup of coffee" from which definition 2 or 5 this sentence belong to?

Hello Naveennnehal,

I would say that this example is more in line with the first rule:

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

The speaker wants a cup of coffee - it can be any cup of coffee, not a specific one. If the speaker had used 'the' here then they would need to know exactly which cup of coffee they mean ('the cup of coffee which is on the table over there').

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much!

Dear all,
There are two points in the article theory presented by you that I am really wondering about.
1/ Explaining the usage of "a/an" article in the case with count nouns when the hearer/reader does not know exactly which one we are referring to, you illustrated it by the following example: "Police are searching for a 14 year-old girl." Here "police" is used with zero article. However, you underline that when referring to a system or a service 'the' article is demanded and the example is: "You should tell THE police."
2/ Enlarging on the indefinite article you wrote:
"№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)"
And, on the other hand, you mention:
"We also use the definite article:
• to say something about ALL THE THINGS REFERRED TO AS A NOUN:
The wolf is not really a dangerous animal (= Wolves are not really dangerous animals)
The kangaroo is found only in Australia (= Kangaroos are found only in Australia)
The heart pumps blood around the body. (= Hearts pump blood around bodies)"

I find it extremly confusing and would be very much obliged to you if you could kindly clear up these points for me.

Hello 5oclocktea,

This is a complex question as the distinctions are very subtle. I would explain the different uses as follows:

 

a + singular countable noun

we can use this with general meaning when we are talking about something which defines the group.  For example:

An elephant is an impressive sight.

In other words, being an impressive sight is one of the characteristics of an elephant; if we saw an animal and it was not impressive then we could be fairly sure that it was not an elephant.  We are talking about any elephant here - it is true of them all.

 

the + singular noun

we can use this with general meaning when we are talking about our image or concept of the noun.  For example:

The elephant can live for over sixty years.

Here we are not talking about a real elephant, but rather the concept of 'elephant' in our heads.

 

no article + plural countable noun or uncountable noun

we use this to talk about what is normal or typical of a type.  It may or may not be true of all individuals but it is typical of most.  For example:

Swedish people are tall.

Here we are talking about the average height of Swedes, not any particular person or concept.

 

The distinction is subtle, as I said, but sometimes it can be important.  For example, we can say with general meaning:

Whales are in danger of becoming extinct.

The whale is in danger of becoming extinct.

However, we cannot say:

A whale is in danger of becoming extinct.

This is because being in danger of becoming extinct may be true but it does not define the whale.

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.  It is a difficult area, as I said.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

The wolf is not really a dangerous animal (wolf can or cannot be a dangerous animal)
The kangaroo is found only in Australia (kangaroo can or cannot be found any where in the world)

but

An elephant is an impressive sight(an elephant is an impressive sight "there is no doubt about the elephant")

Dear peter;
do you want to say!
we use a/an when the sentence is saying something true about the noun
and
we use the when we are giving our idea which can be true or false(its just an idea)
m i right or wrong kindly help me

thankyou

Regards
Naveen Nehal

Hello Naveen Nehal,

No, that's not accurate. The choice of article is about whether the speaker and listener can identify the particular thing or are speaking in non-specific terms, not whether or not something is true or false.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter,
Thanks a lot for your careful explanation of the subject. You clarified the issue for me so wisely! Still, it's not quite clear what article should be used with 'police', 'fire brigade' and words of the same kind, referring to a system?

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