Articles: 'a', 'an', 'the'

Articles: 'a', 'an', 'the'

Do you know how to use a, an and the? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how articles are used.

She's a doctor.
I need an umbrella.
Have you heard the news?
I don't like spiders.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar test 1: Articles 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Here are some of the most important things to know about using articles.


When we say what people's jobs are, we usually use a/an.

He's an architect.
She's a scientist.
My grandmother was a teacher.

Singular nouns

Singular, countable nouns always have an article – a/an or the (or another determiner – my, your, this, that, etc.).

We use a/an – the indefinite article – when we talk about something for the first time, or something that is part of a group or type.

I saw a good film yesterday.
Do you want a drink?

We use a when the word that follows it begins with a consonant sound. We use an when it's followed by a vowel sound. This makes pronunciation easier.

She has a university degree.
It took me an hour to get home.

We use the – the definite article – when the listener already knows which thing we are talking about because it was mentioned before or because there's only one of them.

I'm going to take the dog for a walk.
Have you seen the car key?
They go to the school next to the bridge.

Things in general

When we talk about things in general, we normally use a plural or uncountable noun with no article.

Birds eat worms.
Water freezes at 0°C.
Children need a lot of sleep.

Particular groups of things

When we talk about a particular group of things, we use the.

We went to the zoo and saw the kangaroos. (These are the particular kangaroos in that zoo – not kangaroos in general.)

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar test 2: Articles 1

Average: 4 (174 votes)

Submitted by Sherol on Fri, 11/09/2020 - 22:15

Hello, teacher! I have one question. We usually put a / an when we mention something for the first time. But what if I mean a concrete item but l mention it for the first time? For example: He burned the house. Yes, I mean a specific house, but this is the first time I mention it. Despite this, I use "the". Can you answer: Am I right and explain me why or why no? Thanks in advance, Sherol

Hello Sherol,

When we say that we use the indefinite article when we mention something for the first time it is really a helpful guide rather than a rule. The true rule is that we use the indefinite article when we are speaking about a non-specific example. In other words, if the listener does not know which particular thing is being referred to, or if it does not matter which one, then we use the indefinite article. On the other hand, if both the listener and speaker know which particular thing is being referred to (it is familiar to both) then we use the definite article.


What this means is if I use 'the' then I assume that you know which thing I am referring to. This could be because it has already been mentioned, but it could also be because there is only one (the Moon, the United Nations) or because it is obvious from the context.

Thus, in your example you could use 'the' if both the speaker and the listener know which house you are talking about. Perhaps you are standing in front of it, making it obvious from the context, for example.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sherol on Tue, 01/09/2020 - 10:17

Hello, sir. The definite article "the" is often put when we talk about location of something. But sometimes it doesn't work. For example: Let me hang your coat on A hook? Or We hung our jackets on hangers. Are there any regularities in the exceptions? Thanks, Sherol

Hello Sherol,

Although there are certainly many exceptions in how articles are used, I wouldn't recommend you try to come up with rules about articles based on ideas such as location. As the explanation above suggests, in most cases, it has to do with whether the noun they are used with has been mentioned yet in the conversation. Whether a noun is singular or plural is also important.

In this case, 'the hook' is also a possible form, but by saying 'a hook', the speaker is probably showing that no one has mentioned hanging the jackets on a hook yet. In the case of 'on hangers', 'on the hangers' is also possible (but not 'on a hangers' since 'hangers is plural').

I'd suggest you have a look at the more detailed explanation in our English Grammar reference, which I think will help you make sense of this.

Hope this helps.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sherol on Thu, 27/08/2020 - 15:42

Hello teacher. I made one sentence: When you write down THE meaning of word you should write like this; ............................................................ Why do I have to use The here?

Hi Sherol,

The is needed because the meaning of a word is definite in this context. It's a specific meaning (not just any meaning). The phrase of a word specifies which meaning is referred to in the sentence.

We often use the before of phrases (e.g. the front of the building; the head of government; the start of the film). 

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,


Submitted by Sherol on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 17:07

In reply to by Jonathan R

Yes, I finally understood this topic) Thanks

Submitted by Sunyoung1005 on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 19:28

Hi Sir! Swelling is a place on your body that has become larger or rounder than normal as the result of an illness or injury Could I say 'as a result of' instead of 'as the result'? I see my role as being a catalyst for change. - The riots were later seen as the catalyst for the new political developments. What is the difference between "a catalyst" and "the catalyst" here? Thanks a lot for your help.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 23/08/2020 - 08:21

In reply to by Sunyoung1005


Hello Sunyoung1005,

'A' suggests that there are multiple items and you are describing one. 'The' suggests that there is only one item, or that other items can be ignored or disregarded.

In these examples both forms are possible.

If you say a catalyst then you are implying that there are multiple catalysts and you are describing one of them. If you say the catalyst then you are suggesting that there is only one catalyst.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cms10 on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 11:38

Hi teacher, May I know the difference between "the right" and "a right"? You have the right to consult a lawyer. vs Everyone has a right to a fair trial.