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 (117 votes)

Submitted by alessia baltis on Wed, 18/10/2023 - 14:30

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Hello! Thank you for this useful website. In the sentence "if you want to be a player or a member..", should i put an "a" before "member" or not? Thank you.

Hi alessia baltis,

It's correct both ways! It's your choice whether to repeat "a" or not. 

Thanks for your question. We are very glad to hear that you find the website useful!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by sherry on Fri, 06/10/2023 - 12:39

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Hello! I noticed many grammatical errors on a facial cream I recently bought. English being my second language, I am not entirely sure that I'm being just in this judgement of mine. Please see below the places that I found troublesome:

1. Formula contains ceramide (...), visibly reduces skin irritation (...), and restore skin barrier. Eventually to help the skin stay hydrated (...)
2. Apply the cream to the clean and dry face.

My corrections would be:
1. Formula (...) and RESTORES (THE?) skin barrier, eventually helping the skin stay hydrated (...)
2. Apply the cream to clean and dry face.

Please let me know what you think.

Many many thanks.

Sherry

Hello Sherry,

Instructions of this kind are often full of errors as they are generally translated automatically.

Your first correction is fine - well done!

For the second one we'd say 'to a clean and dry face' or 'clean and dry your face before applying'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Biskwit on Mon, 02/10/2023 - 12:18

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From singular nouns above

"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."

Ive used [] as my copy and paste won't allow me to do italic or bold. I have a feeling the 'explanation' is incorrect, the examples are correct... or am I missing something.

Hello Biskwit,

Both the explanation and the examples are correct as far as I can tell.

The word 'university' begins with the 'y' sound (/iu/), which is considered a consonant in this case in English. Is that what seems wrong to you?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by CarlosMK on Mon, 02/10/2023 - 00:38

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"Hi, thank you for this educational website. I have a question: In the example 'Children need a lot of sleep' under the category 'Things in general,' there isn't an article. However, in Grammar Test 1, point six, the sentence 'I can take the children to school today' includes an article. Can you explain this difference?"

Hello CarlosMK,

In the first sentence there is no article because the sentence is about children in general. In the second sentence the sentence refers to a specific group of children (the speaker's children) and so uses 'the'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by _taratiara on Sat, 30/09/2023 - 08:36

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Excusme, would you explain to me what the difference between "Do you want a drink?" and "Do you want to drink?"

Hello _taratiara,

In terms of the grammar, of course in 1, 'a drink' is the direct object of the verb 'want' and in 2, 'to drink' is an infinitive object of 'want'.

In terms of use, in most social situations, we use 1 and not 2. If you're walking around town and think your companion might be thirsty or you want to have a rest somewhere, you could say 1 or 'Do you want to get something to drink?' but 2 would sound unnatural. If you have a guest in your home and want to offer them something to drink, again, you could use 1, but 2 would sound unnatural. There may be some social situations when 2 could be appropriate, but off the top of my head I can't think of one.

In general, 2 could be appropriate when asking if someone wants to drink alcohol, or in a medical setting when asking if someone wants to drink something not so much for pleasure but for a medical/physical need.

As you can see, this is really a question of usage more than grammar, so it depends a lot on the situation. But I hope this gives you some general ideas, at least.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team