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 (160 votes)

Submitted by Khabir Nursha on Fri, 05/01/2024 - 00:21

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Hello!
I have a problem with using articles with nouns that can be both countable and uncountable when they're premodified with an adjective.
Which of the following sentences is the correct one?

1.The modal verb 'should' is used to express weak obligation.
2.The modal verb 'should' is used to express a weak obligation.

Because I've seen both when searching the internet.

Thank you!

Hi Khabir Nursha,

They are both correct, and they mean the same thing. Some nouns that can be both countable and uncountable have differences in meaning between them (e.g. experience), but that's not the case here.

Actually, the premodifying adjective isn't relevant here. We could also omit the adjective and say ... express obligation or ... express an obligation, also with no difference in meaning.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

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Submitted by Tony_M on Fri, 03/11/2023 - 13:24

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Hello.

I work at a company in which we have a special application that allows senior specialists (buddies) to communicate with newcomers. Recently, I've received an email from my Turkish colleague:

Hello. I have noticed that some messages disappear from the chat again, especially the first messages to employees at the start. What can be done? I have sent three messages to a new employee but none of them is in the chat.

The part 'the first messages to employees at the start' sounds wrong to me. I have two questions:

1. Do we need the article before 'first messages'?
She is talking about all of those messages, just 'first messages' sounds much better. To me, it's like a general type of messages, the article makes them too specific.

2. Would it be better to rebuild the second part of this phrase into 'to the employees in start'?
'Start' is a category or group where those employees are. Unless we have the word 'group' or something like that there (like 'the start group', but that doesn't sound good), I don't think we need any articles before the word 'start'. The part 'in start' qualifies 'the employees'.

Thank you.

Hello Tony_M,

1. I also would probably just write 'first messages', but I wouldn't say 'the first messages' is wrong; one could conceivably argue that 'the' is appropriate because she's referring to a whole set of standard messages that this group of employees receives. These messages might have been mentioned earlier, but even if not, given the situation, it sounds as if she can assume the reader will know what she's referring to. Does that make sense?

2. Without having seen more examples of how this group of employees are referred to or the different categories of employees, I'm afraid I can't offer much guidance on whether 'at the start' or 'in start' works better; neither one sounds right outside of this context. Trying to imagine myself as an employee of this company, to my ears, 'employees in the start group' or even possibly 'start group employees' could both sound OK. In general English, these phrases would of course not be appropriate, but companies often develop their own set of terms that are so commonly used that they become correct inside the company.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello Kirk,

Thank you so much for the speedy reply.

1. It does make sense. On the other hand, those messages are not standardized in any way, shape, or form. She might've written different things there, and the messages have never been mentioned earlier. I am the recipient of this email, and I know nothing about them, except for the fact that they were first.

2. These newcomers are in a group like this:

START
-----
Jack
Kira
Alan
Daniel
Cary
James
Richard
Tom

I understand that 'at the start of their employment' would probably be the best option if we wanted to use common terminology.
I reckon here we can enclose the name of the group in quotation marks ('Start'), and rewrite the phrase like this:

I have noticed that some messages disappear from the chat again, especially first messages to the employees in 'Start'.

'first messages' is just a general category, all of her first messages disappeared;
'the employees' - what employees? - all the employees in the group 'Start'.

Does it make sense?

Thank you.

Hello again Tony_M,

1. Yes, 'first messages' works better in that case. If I've understood correctly, I might have written 'all my first messages' or 'the first messages I wrote', but if I didn't say either of those, then I agree that it's best to leave out the article.

2. Your solution looks good to me. 

3. You didn't ask about it, but I'd recommend saying 'are disappearing' instead of 'disappear'. In this case, the continuous aspect shows the idea that this is a problem that comes up from time to time. It can also show that it's something recent, i.e. a new occurrence of this recurrent problem.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello Kirk,

Thank you for your invaluable help.
You and Jonathan R (who also helped me a lot) are absolute rock stars.

You made a great point in number 3.

I am going off the topic here, but I've noticed that you often use 'if I've understood correctly' in your messages. I do realize that this observation is a bit weird, to say the least, but that's the lesser of two evils. Such things as conveying my ideas clearly and avoiding ambiguities are much more important than any attempt to avoid the appearance of weirdness. I would really appreciate it if you could tell me what was unclear in my post.

Thank you.

Hi Tony_M,

I'm sorry that the phrase 'if I've understood correctly' threw you off! I often use this phrase in my responses to comments because sometimes I'm not completely certain I've understood the situation someone describes (or doesn't describe).

In this case, I found your explanation very clear and precise, and only said that in recognition of the slight possibility of some sort of misunderstanding on my part. But I don't think there is any.

Glad to help!

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team