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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Hello Vivek,

'The' and 'this' are both reference devices which we use to refer to previously mentioned or known items. Your sentence is grammatical and you could use either 'the' or 'this' in each case. However, I would use 'the' in both places as we generally use 'this' when we want to identify something not merely as known but as contrasted with another item in the sense of 'this one not that one': 'this program works very well, but that program has never been successful'.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vivek on Tue, 19/10/2021 - 17:34

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Sir, as you said we generally use article the with common noun.
So here in this sentence.
1) yesterday I was at balham station. The station was fully crowded when I reached there.
Why here ( the station) sounds good. but in this example,,
2) Oxford street is very poor. We need to reconstruct the street.
Why here the sounds bad

Hello Vivek,

We use 'the' when we are talking about something which both the speaker and the listener can identify as a specific item. In the first example, we use 'the' because we know which station we are talking about - it was identified in the previous sentence (Balham Station).

The second example is not incorrect as the street has been identified (Oxford Street), just as the station was in the first example. However, the style is not great. We would generally avoid repeating 'street' here and instead use a pronoun: '...we need to reconstruct it'.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vivek on Tue, 19/10/2021 - 15:58

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Thank you sir for your previous explanation.
I have one doubt.
As we use the when the things which we talk is know to the listener so here,
1)the coffee plant begins to produce fruit after 4 years from being planted. The fruit is hand gathered when it is fully ripe
2) Agriculture incomes are not included in tax assessment. These income are excluded while calculating tax.

Why in first sentence (the fruit) is used and in second one (these incomes)
As in second sentence I have already mention (agriculture income)
Thanks in advance.

Hello Vivek,

The first sentence features an extremely use of the word 'the'. As for the second, perhaps the writer wants it to be absolutely clear what is excluded and is afraid that ideas from a previous sentence could cause confusion on the part of the reader. I'm afraid we can't know exactly why writers choose the words that they do, especially without knowing the sentences that come before and after and without knowing the writer's intentions or intended readers.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vivek on Mon, 18/10/2021 - 10:46

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Yesterday I was In a school. The teachers in that school was very nice. Or,
Yesterday I was in a school. The teachers in the school was very nice
Which one is correct sir. Plz explain

These sentences are incorrect as the word 'school' is repeated twice. You could instead use the word 'there'. For example, 'Yesterday I was in a school. The teachers there were very nice.'

Submitted by Vivek on Mon, 18/10/2021 - 07:29

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Good afternoon sir,
As we know that the is used with singular countable nouns.
So which of these sentences are correct
1)yesterday I was in a bank. The staffs of that bank were very nice or,
Yester I was in a bank.the staffs of the bank were very nice.
Is the sentence with (that bank) right

Hello Vivek,

You could say 'the bank' or 'that bank' here. Most of the time, people would say 'the' and it would clearly refer to the same bank mentioned in the first sentence.

If you wanted to add some emphasis -- that is, to insist that it was the same bank -- then you could say 'that'.

By the way, 'staff' is only used in the singular in standard British English.

Please note that it can take us some time to respond to comments. Posting more than one comment about the same topic won't make things any faster. Thanks in advance for your understanding!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vivek on Sun, 17/10/2021 - 19:37

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Sir we know that article the is used when listener and speaker both know which things is talking about .so in this example
1) Oxford street is very poor .
We need to reconstruct the street.
Why here the sounds bad.
I have mentioned about the street in first sentence

Hi Vivek,

It's because we don't normally use the article with proper nouns (names of people, places and things that begin with a capital letter, e.g. Oxford Street, London, Kate Smith, Romeo and Juliet).

The rule you mentioned is for common nouns. We could use 'the' if we change 'Oxford Street' to a common noun, e.g. 'The street where I live is very poor.'

Does that make sense?

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by LitteBlueGreat on Thu, 14/10/2021 - 14:33

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Hi... sir

Can I use singular nouns without article "A/An" in the senses of imaginable things? As far I have known indefinite article always implies a quantity such as

An apple/orange = 1 Apple / Orange and so on

But I have a case, please imagine there are 2 people lost in middle of Sahara desert, There is no food, water just endless sand around them. Then the one asks the other
"Hey bro what fruit you would eat if we could find any kind of it?".

"me?, Orange".

Here comes my problem, the orange above is, what I will interprete, much of Dictionary definition.

I mean it is like what is orange?, what is apple? or what is cat? There is no discussing about a number of apple itself..

that's why it sounds like Imaginable thing

If it is added An "A/an article" then, if I were the asker, it would make my eyebrows rise up.

How can the responder get by with one apple?

How do you think of that sir?

Hello LittleBlueGreat,

Thanks for providing a very clear example -- it really helps me understand your question. Here I think any native speaker would say 'an orange' (or 'an apple' or 'some grapes', etc.). Although the fruit they're talking about is imaginary, in their imagination, it's a very real piece of fruit that they are eating and so a determiner or quantifier of some sort is needed.

It is possible to speak of 'apple' as an abstraction, but this is quite unusual in most people's speaking or writing. Although I believe philosophers would speak more of 'appleness' rather than 'apple', 'apple' sounds to me like something out of Plato's theory of forms (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_forms). I don't know enough about this topic to say if it's really appropriate there, but it at least made me think of it!

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Apiw on Sat, 07/08/2021 - 07:43

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That was hard lesson for me.

Submitted by Fiona on Wed, 28/04/2021 - 13:37

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I’ve read this: apple starts with A banana starts with B chiken starts with C I thought happiness started with a H but why does mine starts with U Why do you need an article for the fourth line only? Or it’s just simply wrong?

Hi Fiona,

Actually, it's correct with or without an article, so both of these are correct:

  • Apple starts with A.
  • Apple starts with an A.

 

But there are a couple of other things to correct. It should be 'an H' (because the sound is 'aitch', which starts with a vowel sound), and 'why does mine start with U' (in the infinitive form, because it follows 'does'). Also, check the spelling of 'chicken'.

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by emidepegaso on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 23:37

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Nice :DDDDDDDDD

Submitted by Larissari09 on Mon, 05/04/2021 - 16:07

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In the example about 'a' and 'an', that is right? "She has a university degree." "It took me an hour to get home." Correctly is no " She has an university degree." and "It took me a hour to get home."? Is not about the letter that starts the word?

Hello Larissari09,

As is explained above, it's the sound that starts the word that matters, not the letter:

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.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sameer Mankoo on Sun, 04/04/2021 - 12:18

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Let me change the clothes. Let me Watch the television. Let me take the medicine. Let me help the poor. Let me tie a turban. Can you tell these examples are correct? If I'm wrong tell me Why?

Hello Sameer Mankoo,

Those are all grammatically correct, but remember that the use of articles, especially the definite article, is highly dependent on context. The definite article expresses shared knowledge between the speaker and the listener, so their relationship to each other, to the world in general and to the specific context in which they are speaking are all important.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sameer Mankoo on Sun, 04/04/2021 - 11:23

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4. Could you please pass me salt? Why ' the ' is used here. Can anyone tell me the reason?

Hello Sameer Mankoo,

The idea is that when we say this, we are sitting at the table with other people and the salt is on the table. It's something we can all see and I can assume that the person I say this to knows what I am referring to.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Wasim Mamunn Sirajee on Sat, 27/03/2021 - 16:53

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"The project has helped to decrease the rate of early marriage of (the) girl students in India." Is it a correct sentence?

Hello Wasim Mamunn Sirajee,

Yes, the sentence is grammatically correct.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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

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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

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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.