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

Hello,

It mentioned that we don't use the indefinite article with plural nouns. However, as far as understand, in the following sentence from your website you use the indefinite article before a plural noun ("a" before few differences): "British people and American people can always understand each other – but there are a few notable differences between British English and American English" (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/quick-grammar/british-english...). Can you please explain it? Thanks you!

Hi Or Yahalom,

Do you mean the 'a' in 'a few notable differences'? In this case, 'a few' is a determiner that goes before plural nouns. In this case, it's as if 'few' means something like 'group of several'; even though it looks singular, it has a plural meaning and is only used before plural nouns, which then take plural verbs.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk,

Thank you very much for your response.

I am afraid I don't understand the answer. My question was why there is an article ("a") before the countable-plural verbs "differences", and I'm not sure how your response answer my question. If "few" is plural, it shouldn't have an article before. The same about differences. My question stems from the explanation in your website that mentioned that we don't use the indefinite article with plural nouns. Can you explain again please?

Thanks in advance,

Or

Hi again Or Yahalom,

The 'a' in 'a few' is not an indefinite article -- in fact, it's not an article at all. In the way it's used here, it is inseparable from 'few' -- in fact, I shouldn't even be separating them here, but I'm doing it to try to make my point. It's as if 'a few' is one word, and this word means something like 'several'.

You might want to read this explanation for more information about 'a few' and 'few', which are different determiners.

I hope this helps, but if not, please don't hesitate to ask again.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much for the explanation!

The point is clear right now :)

Hello. I often see a sentence with the structure "what + a + noun" like the following:
What a morning!
What a mess!
What a hotel!
What a girl! etc.

My question is what does "what a" actually mean? Does it mean "really"?

Hello Crokong,

The phrase 'What a...!' is a fixed expression showing amazement at the scale of something or how extreme something is. We don't break up phrases like this an assign concrete meaning to each individual part, but rather understand the phrase as a whole as a unit.

The meaning can be understood as something like 'What an amazing example of .... that is!'

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the explanation Peter M. So, in the sentences like 'what a mess!', 'what a waste of time!', does this mean "what an amazing mess!", "what a amazing waste of time!"?

Hello Crokong,

Yes, that's correct. The construction can be used for both positive (What a performance!) and negative (What an idiot!) reactions.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I understand now. In positive reactions "what a...!" shows amazement. It means amazing, brilliant, great. But in negative reactions, what is the meaning of "what a...!"? I need an adjective here so that it's clear for me.

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