Art Scene 1 Language Focus

Rob and Ashlie talk about the little words which cause so much trouble: articles!

Watch the video. Then go to Task and do the activities.

Task 1

Use a, an, or 0 (no article) to complete the sentences.


Task 2

Use the definite (the) or indefinite article (a) to finish the sentences.


Task 3

Match the questions with the answers using I guess.


Average: 5 (1 vote)

Submitted by ifencing on Sat, 14/04/2018 - 18:22

Hello British Councial. I really need your help. In one book it says: the definite article is used before a noun when it represents a whole class of things; The compoter has made text editing easier, But the indefinite article is not possible because it would refer to one or any member of the class but not the class as a whole. The other book says: we can use a/the before singular countable nouns to refer to a class of people, animals and things. A/the dolphin is a mammal. Can you explain why one book says that we can't use the indefinite article in that sense 'a computer has made....' and it says it's wrong. But the other book says 'A dolphin and the dolphin is a mammal' both exeptional, Thanks in advance.

Hello ifencing,

I'm afraid I can't explain why books are written as they are - for this you will have to contact the author of each book. What I can do is explain how articles are used with general meaning. It is possible to use the indefinite article, the definite article and the zero article  with general meaning, but there are differences.



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 and the distinctions are quite subtle.



The LearnEnglish Team

thanks a lot) You explained it better than books =) Thats why The British Council is the best of the best )

Submitted by wangyao on Mon, 02/04/2018 - 11:00

I heard Rob pronounced the word "a" is similar to /ə/ but when I looked up the dictionary, I saw a's pronunciation is /ei/. Does the word "a" have two ways to pronounce or there is a problem is my listening skill?

Hi wangyao,

You are right -- 'a' has two pronunciations, a strong one (/eɪ/) and a weak one (/ə/). I'm not sure what dictionary you used, but I'd recommend the Cambridge Dictionary as a good general reference.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Donald Harrison on Thu, 22/03/2018 - 13:42

Dear Team, I will be grateful if you could clear my doubts on Articles as follows: Text: This month is Black History month, celebrating the contribution that Afro Caribbean people have made to British society Question: Why not " the British Society" . Isn't it a one of a particular thing as a whole? Text: The Irish have come to Britain for many years, looking for work. After World War Two Irish and other European workers were encouraged to take factory jobs Question: Why "the" before the first Irish and no article for the second Irish. Isn't Irish a general term?. Why not "the World War Two" . Don't we use when there is only one thing of that kind exist, such as " the Sun"
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 23/03/2018 - 06:44

In reply to by Donald Harrison


Hello Donald Harrison,

'Society' has no article when it refers to the abstract concept of society, with a meaning similar to culture. We use an article with it when we are referring not to the abstract concept but to a particular organisation: I'm a member of a music society, I keep my money in the local builing society.


In your second example the word 'Irish' is used in different ways:

  • The Irish have... - here 'Irish' is a collective noun and we use the definite article before such nouns: the old, the young, the rich, the English, the Victorians.
  • Irish and other workers were encouraged... - here 'Irish' is an adjective describing the noun 'workers'.


'World War Two' is treated as a proper name. Where a descriptive name is used there is an article, so we say World War Two (no article) but the Second World War, the Vietnam War and the Battle of Trafalgar.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, Thank you for the comprehensive explanation. It is much appreciated. Now I can see other aspects of grammar that should be considered when learning the usage of articles. Donald Harrison

Submitted by Zeeshan Siddiqii on Tue, 30/01/2018 - 06:00

When we talk about the London city, it evokes the beautiful sonnet by Wordsworth. In this 'the' before 'London' is right? Can we use 'the' before city name?

Hello Zeeshan Siddiqii,

There are several options here. You can say 'the city of London' or just 'London'. Sometimes you will see the informal phrase 'London Town' used. You can also see the capitalised phrase 'the City of London' or just 'the City', which refers to the financial centre.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team