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.

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

Average: 4 (122 votes)

Submitted by Hello_I_am_Cri… on Sat, 24/06/2023 - 18:43

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Hello
Is this subject have a video explanation?
Thank

Submitted by Hrihorii94 on Sun, 11/06/2023 - 10:01

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Hi.
Can someone here explain why "I can take children to school today" is incorrect". Children is a plural. So we shouldn't use 'a' with that, probably.

Hello Hrihorii94,

You are right in thinking that 'a children' is not correct. The correct answer here is 'the children' because this sentence is not about children in general. Instead, it is about a specific group of children, and so we use 'the' before it.

I suppose that in a very specific situation, 'I can take children to school today' is possible, but in the vast majority of situations, 'the children' is best.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Aona on Sun, 14/05/2023 - 12:50

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Hello!

Please explain to me which sentence is correct and why.

Jane won second place.
Or
Jane won the second place
Or
Jane won a second place

Is there a possibility that all three are correct and when?

Thank you! :)

Hello Aona,

The first one is correct and the other two are not.

In general when we don't use an article (sometimes this is called 'zero article') with nouns that go with a cardinal number (e.g. 'room 12', 'page 56' or 'area 51').

More often than not, we use a definite article with ordinal numbers, but there are some exceptions. 'first place' and 'second prize' are examples of these exceptions.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thank you. Now I understand that rule.
I thought I should use "the" article because this word "second" is an ordinal number. I remember that the definite article should be used in front of ordinal numbers...

Oh, so confusing...

What about these two:

You don't do the housework every day.
Or
You don't do housework every day.

Thank you sooo much for your time.

Hello Aona,

Both of the sentences about housework can be correct in appropriate situations. The first one is appropriate when we're talking about the housework in a specific situation. For example, imagine you live with your mother and she says she does the housework (in your shared house) every day. But in fact, you are the one who does it on the weekends. Then you could use this sentence -- 'the' shows that you're referring to the housework where you live. 'the' doesn't explicitly refer to the housework in your shared house, but if no other context is mentioned, that is what would be understood.

The second sentence would be appropriate when speaking to a person who never does housework in any situation. Though in such a case, I'd omit 'every day' since it would be redundant.

Please note that these are not the only possible situations -- they're just examples!

I've revised my answer about definite articles with ordinal numbers above -- sorry for any confusion!

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team