Articles 1

Do you know how to use a, an and the?

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.

Jobs

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

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Submitted by Mike210801 on Fri, 12/03/2021 - 14:17

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Hi! Can you explain to me why question 8 in the grammar test 2 use the article when the noun is plural?

Hi Mike210801,

The article used there is 'the' and there is no reason why you cannot use 'the' with plural nouns.

We do not use 'a' with plural nouns, but 'the' can be used with singular or plural.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by M Sha on Wed, 03/03/2021 - 22:57

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Hi all, I am new to the group. Hope all are fine in this pandemic. I use Grammarly keyboard and while I type the following sentence, They go to the school next to the bridge. Grammarly detects a mistake and recommends to remove “the” before school. Could anyone please help! Thanks.

Hello M Sha,

There's an explanation of when to use and not to use 'the' before words like 'school' on the Articles 2 page. I imagine that you should use 'the' here, but I'd need to know more about the situation you are talking about to say this with confidence.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish

Submitted by Marie-Ann_2021 on Fri, 22/01/2021 - 12:13

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Hello, could you explain, please, why 'an' is used before 'responsibilities', as it is a noun in plural, in the sentence 'A contract of employment is a document that details an employee's and employer's responsibilities for a particular job' ? Thank you.

Hi Marie-Ann_2021,

Good question! Actually, an is related to employee and employer, not to responsibilities. The rephrased sentence below shows this more clearly:

  • A contract of employment is a document that details the responsibilities of an employee and employer for a particular job.

In your sentence, the whole phrase an employee's and employer's is the determiner, not just an. Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Aww, I see. Thank you, Jonathan! Your explanation was very helpful for me! Many thanks!

Submitted by Veruha on Sat, 09/01/2021 - 12:02

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Please help me((((( Six billion people live in the world today, but two hundred years from now, that number 1_______________ (grow) to twenty or thirty billion! So where will we all live? Many people 2_______________ (live) in huge cities with populations of thirty or fifty million people. By then, some people 3_______________ (build) houses on – or under – the water too. By the year 2200, we 4_______________ (not eat) the same foods as we eat today, and we 5_______________ (probably / speak) different languages too. Two hundred years from now, the world will be a very different place! Future past or future continious

Hello Veruha,

I'd suggest you have a look at our Future continuous and future perfect page, where the grammar you need to know to complete this exercise is explained. Could you also please copy your question into a comment there so that it's on a relevant page? Please also tell us what you think the answers are -- we'll be happy to help you understand any that you complete incorrectly.

Thanks in advance,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Weirdblast on Fri, 08/01/2021 - 18:07

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Hi, I have a doubt. Yesterday, I was using Learn English Grammar app and I did the lesson of ''a, an or the''. One of the exercise was ''I can play ___ piano'' and the correct answer was ''the''. I don't understand why is that because I didn't know which violin we are talking about neither is particular group of violins. I thought the correct answer was (nothing). Can u explain me? Thank you!

Hi Weirdblast,

When we talk about musical instruments we always use 'the' in this context:

I can play the piano.

Can you play the guitar?

She's learning to play the drums.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nanda_zhr on Fri, 25/12/2020 - 12:32

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hello!im beginner here...im from indonesian hope u can help me to learn english very well thankyou....and sorry if my english skill still bad..:(((

Submitted by Maria19 on Mon, 21/12/2020 - 09:39

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Hey, I get confused a little. I would happy for explanation. You write - "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." But the example that you give: "She has a university degree." I don't understand why it is 'a' and don't 'an'. -university start with u and this is a vowel sound, so why a? Thank you

Hello Maria19,

The key is the word 'sound'. A vowel in English is one of five letters: a, e, i, o, u. However, a word can begin with a vowel (letter) but not with a vowel sound (pronunciation).

University is an example of this. The first sound is not /u:/ but /j/, the same sound we have in yellow and yes.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Loc Duc on Thu, 17/12/2020 - 13:29

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Hi, can you explain more about '' something that is part of a group or type'' and ''Do you want sandwich? I've got cheese and bread in the shopping bag.'' why the answer to this question is a. thank you.

Hi Loc Duc,

'Something that is part of a group of type' refers to words like teacher in this sentence: She's a teacher. It means she is a member of a group (a group of people who have the same job - they are all teachers). 

About Do you want ___ sandwich?, this needs 'a' because sandwich is a singular countable noun, and it seems like this is the first mention of the sandwich in the conversation.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by shahidanshaari on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 16:45

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I would like to invite you to be a speaker for the program. Note: only one speaker in that program. Should i use a speaker or the speaker. Some told me “a” coz a job and it’s the first time being mentioned. Some told me “the” coz only one person in the program invited to be the speaker.

Hello shahidanshaari,

The most accurate thing to say here would be 'the', which clearly indicates that there is only one speaker. People might sometimes say 'a', but this could be cause confusion if there's only one speaker.

We use 'a' before professions especially after the verb 'be' (e.g. 'I am a teacher', 'She's an engineer'), but this rule doesn't apply in all circumstances.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by javibuendi on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 10:29

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Dear LearnEnglish Team. Why do you write "a university" instead of "an university", if "university" begins with a vowel? Do you know more examples where you write "a + word that begins with a vowel"? Thank you!

Hi javibuendi,

Good question! It's because choosing a or an actually depends on the first sound of the word, not the first letter. In the word university, the first letter is 'u' but the first sound is a consonant: a 'y' sound (or /j/, in the phonetic alphabet). That's why a is used instead of an.

Yes, there are more words like this. Here are some examples: a universe, a union, a uniform, a ukelele, a unique (person), a useful (book).

For the same reason, some words begin with an 'h' but it is silent, so the first sound is a vowel sound. They need an. Here are some examples: an hour, an honour, an honest person.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much for the explanation, Jonathan. Now I see it clearer.

Submitted by mhdkadas on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 16:28

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Please Correct answer in the begin of question number 3 ,When I put "the" I got false but in the answers it was written "the" ? thanks

Hi mhdkadas,

Thanks for letting us know about the problem. I've just tested it, and it is working OK for me and it marks the as correct for test 2 question 3. So, it might have been a temporary error.

Is it working for you now? If not, also check that the answer is exactly the (without capital letters).

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ZIZO on Thu, 12/11/2020 - 13:32

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Hi, "Harry Potter was born in Surrey, England, United Kingdom." I am a bit confused. Is it "United Kingdom" OR " "the United Kingdom"? Thanks in advance, Zizo

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 12/11/2020 - 16:49

In reply to by ZIZO

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Hello Zizo,

In general, it is 'the United Kingdom', but there can be some exceptions to this. I'm not sure what the complete context is for the sentence you've found, but in general when we write an address on a letter, we don't put 'the United Kingdom', we just put 'United Kingdom' (or even just 'UK').

Since the sentence you found is kind of like an address, I expect that is why 'the' was left out.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Avianna on Tue, 20/10/2020 - 13:17

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Hello. We use article the with a group of islands but why do we say Bermuda without the, could you clarify, please?

Hello Avianna,

Bermuda is actually a shortened version of the full name, which is the Islands of Bermuda. When the full name is used we use 'the'; only the abbreviated form is without. I guess we treat Bermuda as a name in itself, just as we do with Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other Carribbean states.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 16:44

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I'm gonna tell you about a trip. (the listener doesn't know about it) Is it possible to use "a" in this?

Hello DaniWeebKage,

Yes, that's fine. You would only use 'the' if the person you are talking to already knows which trip you are talking about.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by polina1526 on Mon, 12/10/2020 - 17:58

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Even though articles are essential while speaking English, it is a topic that is commonly confused by language learners, especially ones whose first language does not have any articles at all. This website helps students to learn such a difficult topic. It has the rule with precise explanation and some incredibly useful examples. Not only one can easily understand in which case they should use 'a', 'an' or 'the' but also take a short test to sum up everything they have read.

Submitted by Babydoll on Mon, 05/10/2020 - 23:50

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Hi there, Thank you for the great explanation for articles. I struggle to use right article after reading this topic I feel more confident and clear.☺️

Submitted by SHAILESH TIPNIS on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 19:55

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Hello teacher, "Is there a university where you live?" In the above question, we use the article "a" before the word "university" in spite it starts from the vowel sound "u". So please explain what would be the correct "a" or "an" and why in the above example.

Hello SHAILESH TIPNIS,

We use a before consonant sounds and an before vowel sounds. However, you need to remember that some words begin with a vowel (letter) but are pronounced with a consonant sound first. University is like this. The first sound is /j/, which is the same sound as at the beginning of words like you, year and yellow. That is why we say a university not an.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hey Pedro, listen something is not allowing me to post comments. I am not sure what it is?? help me please. Thanks.

Hello Celso Jaya Cabrera,

We moderate all comments before they are published. We normally do this at least a couple of times each day, but this means that some hours can pass before everyone can see your published comments on the site.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nel on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 01:28

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Could you please give me another example like : "a university"

Hello nel,

Certainly. Here are some examples: a union, a united group, a unique painting, a universal truth.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SergeySSSS on Mon, 14/09/2020 - 07:03

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In the first exercise, I did many mistakes but when I read the rule I remember that I was learning already. Conclusion I did completely the next tasks.

Submitted by Elhamshojaei on Sun, 13/09/2020 - 05:59

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Hi, May i ask questions ? who answer me? and how?

Hi Elhamshojaei,

Yes, you can ask questions. In fact, you just did!

We read all comments before they are published on the page. If you have a question then we'll try to answer. We don't provide answers to tasks from elsewhere - after all, we don't want to do people's homework for them - but we are happy to answer questions about the information on our pages or about English more generally if we can.

 

If you do ask a question, please remember that we are a small team here and it may take us a day or two to answer it. We ask users to keep questions short and relevant to the topic of the page. If a question is too long then we may not answer it, as we have to deal with a lot of questions every day.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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,

Jonathan