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The indefinite article: 'a' and 'an'

Level: beginner

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

Police are searching for a 14-year-old girl.

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

She is a pupil at London Road School.

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

Jenny Brown is a pupil at London Road School. She is 1.6 metres tall, with short, blonde hair. When she left home, she was wearing a blue jacket, a blue and white blouse, dark blue jeans and blue shoes. 

Anyone who has information should contact the local police on 0800 349 781.

We do not use an indefinite article with plural nouns or uncount nouns:

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

The indefinite article 1

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The indefinite article 2

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The indefinite article 3

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We use a before a consonant sound:

a banana (starts with /b/) a university (starts with /j/)

and an before a vowel sound:

an orange (starts with /o/) an hour (starts with /au/)

Note that the choice of a or an depends on sound, not spelling.

The indefinite article 4

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Comments

Can we say 'a cat and dog','a man and woman' and the like?

Hello Sheikh Salauddin

Yes, you can say that, though in some cases it can be better to say, for example, 'a cat and a dog'. It depends on the situation and what you mean.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir,

I have two questions.

1. In the sentence 'He is terrible at keeping his accounts in order.'

'He has been a terrible father.'

I have noted that terrible has both positive and negative meanings. But how to know when terrible is used in positive sense and when in negative sense?

2. In the sentence 'Come and sit at the table.' why 'at the table' why not 'on the table.'

Please expalin to me.

Hello Navreet Bhardwaj,

Terrible has a negative meaning (very bad) in both of your examples.

The most common positive use of the word is as an adverb modifying a positive adjective: terribly good, terribly nice etc. This is similar to the way we use awfully.

If you have an example of terrible used in a positive sense as an adjective then please post it and we'll be happy to comment.

 

The reason the is used in your other example is presumably that a specific table is being referred to and both the speaker and the listener know which table it is: the table in front of them, or the main dining table in the house or room where they are.

 

In a more general context, there is a phrase sit at the table which does not refer to any particular table, but is rather a fixed expression used in contrast to eating standing up, eating on the go (as you walk or drive) or sitting with a plate on your knees:

I don't like eating in the car. Meals are important to me. It's a family time and I like everyone to sit at the table together.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
1) a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
2) Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England

The two sentences are from Pride and Prejudice. Why there is an article "a" (of a good fortune) in the first sentence, but there isn't one in the second sentence (man of large fortune)? Even though these two sentences have a very similar structure and said pretty much the same thing?

Thank you.

Hi learning_always,

The first thing to remember is that these are not examples of contemporary English, and so they use formulations which are no longer normal today.

 

The first sentence is about possession. The phrase in possession of means the same as who has or who owns. Just as we would say who owns a car or who has a house, we say in possession of a car or in possession of a house, or, as in this example, in possession of a large fortune. In this context, a large fortune means a lot of money.

 

The second sentence is not about possession, but rather about personal characteristics. We can say a man of good character or a man of bad luck, and the phrase a man of good forune has a similar meaning. In this context good fortune means good luck.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir/Madam,
Could we use “the” before “lack of”, “lots of”, “many”, “plenty of”...?
Ex: I like to eat apple due to the many benefits.
If not, could you please help me to explain it? Thank you!

Hello Oliver T1,

We can use 'the' before 'lack of' and 'many', but not before 'lots of' or 'plenty of', and not before 'much'. It's a very confusing area, I'm afraid!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you please help? I'm really confused about articles. Which one is correct or both?
- (A - The) station is a place where passengers can get on or off a train.
Thank you.

Hello. Are the two sentences Correct? If so, what is the difference?
Some colleagues say that "An" is not correct!!!!!!
- An engineer has an interesting job.
- The engineer has an interesting job.
Thank you

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