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

Section: 

Comments

hello amol,

'an' is always used before words with a true silent 'h' (e.g. 'heir', 'honest', 'hour') at the beginning. When a word begins with an 'h' that is pronounced, there is a group that traditionally was preceded by 'an' (e.g. 'historical', 'hotel' -- these words come from French), but my impression is that most native speakers use 'a' before these words these days. That's how I'd encourage you to pronounce them.

If you're not sure how to pronounce a word, the Cambridge Dictionary has audio files for most -- see 'hour' for example.

By the way, please do not post your questions more than once. It can take us time -- days, even -- to answer your comments and posting them a second time will only delay our answer.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

In the next page it reads: "We use the definite article... to refer to a system or service: You should tell the police"

But here you use this example: "Police (no 'the') have been searching for a 14 year-old girl who has been missing since Friday".

Why?

Hello Artem1983,

'Police' can refer to the institution, in which case we use 'the', or it can refer to the individuals who make up the police force (meaning something like 'police officers'), in which case it has no article. Thus I would say:

The police are searching for the missing person. [the institution/organisation]

Police are searching for the missing person. [a group of officers]

We do not use 'police' in this way with a singualr meaning, however.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

Could you please tell me which of the following is correct?

1) "An empathetic, dependable, methodical and creative team player who thrives in high-pressure environments."

2) "An empathetic, a dependable, methodical and creative team player who thrives in high-pressure environments."

3) "An empathetic, a dependable, a methodical and a creative team player who thrives in high-pressure environments."

Thank you!

Best regards,

Ambar

Hi Ambar,

The first and third versions are correct; the first is the best stylistically, in my opinion, and is the one which would be most widely used.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

Why in the example "Police have been searching for a 14 year-old girl who has been missing since Friday" use "have and not has? Police represent with personal pronoun it, no?, there for we should use "has been"

Thank you

Hello vcorteso,

In British English, plural verbs are often used with third person subjects that refer to a group of people, such as 'police', 'Manchester United', etc. In other varieties of English, such as American, 'has' would be the correct form. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks!!!! too clear :)

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

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