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The indefinite article: 'a' and 'an'

Level: beginner

We use the indefinite article, a/an, with singular nouns when the listener/reader does not know exactly which one we are referring to:

Police are searching for a 14-year-old girl.

We also use it to show that the person or thing is one of a group:

She is a pupil at London Road School.

Police have been looking for a 14-year-old girl who has been missing since Friday.

Jenny Brown is a pupil at London Road School. She is 1.6 metres tall, with short, blonde hair. When she left home, she was wearing a blue jacket, a blue and white blouse, dark blue jeans and blue shoes. 

Anyone who has information should contact the local police on 0800 349 781.

We do not use an indefinite article with plural nouns or uncount nouns:

She was wearing blue shoes. (plural noun)
She has short, blonde hair. (uncount noun)

The indefinite article 1

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The indefinite article 2

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The indefinite article 3

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We use a before a consonant sound:

a banana (starts with /b/) a university (starts with /j/)

and an before a vowel sound:

an orange (starts with /o/) an hour (starts with /au/)

Note that the choice of a or an depends on sound, not spelling.

The indefinite article 4

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Comments

Hi again omarmohamed99,

Generally, the grammar covered in 'Beginner grammar' is lower level than the grammar covered in 'Intermediate grammar'. The 'English Grammar' section isn't classified by level and is a bit more systematic. If there is a specific point you need help on, please ask us and we will help direct you to the appropriate pages.

There is some advice on how to get the most out of our site and how to use it for various purposes (such as improving your grammar and/or speaking) on our Frequently asked questions page.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

dear sir
please i want more explain and more examples for this case ( next
1. We use the indefinite article, a/an, with count nouns when the hearer/reader does not know exactly which one we are referring to) i can't understand it clearly

Hello omarmohamed99,

I would suggest you read our Articles 1 and Articles 2 pages. The Cambridge Dictionary also has a long entry on articles that could also be useful.

If you have any specific questions about a specific sentence, please don't hesitate to ask us.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, my Greek friend has asked the following question which I can't help with the grammar point. we can say 'a great many ...., but not a very few ...' why?

Hello Floyd,

It's helpful to consider the difference between a few and few first of all.

We use few when we want to emphasise that there are not enough. For example, if I say I have few friends then I am suggesting that I am rather lonely.

We use a few when we want to emphasise that there is a satisfactory number. For example, if I say I have a few friends then I am suggesting that I am happy with what I have.

Given this, very works well with few, showing a lack of something. However, it does not conceptually fit with a few in the same way that we don't say very enough. It's not that it is impossible to say a very few for rhetorical effect, but it is unusual.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank's Peter M, I will pass the message to my Greek friend.

Hello,

It mentioned that we don't use the indefinite article with plural nouns. However, as far as understand, in the following sentence from your website you use the indefinite article before a plural noun ("a" before few differences): "British people and American people can always understand each other – but there are a few notable differences between British English and American English" (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/quick-grammar/british-english...). Can you please explain it? Thanks you!

Hi Or Yahalom,

Do you mean the 'a' in 'a few notable differences'? In this case, 'a few' is a determiner that goes before plural nouns. In this case, it's as if 'few' means something like 'group of several'; even though it looks singular, it has a plural meaning and is only used before plural nouns, which then take plural verbs.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again Or Yahalom,

The 'a' in 'a few' is not an indefinite article -- in fact, it's not an article at all. In the way it's used here, it is inseparable from 'few' -- in fact, I shouldn't even be separating them here, but I'm doing it to try to make my point. It's as if 'a few' is one word, and this word means something like 'several'.

You might want to read this explanation for more information about 'a few' and 'few', which are different determiners.

I hope this helps, but if not, please don't hesitate to ask again.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. I often see a sentence with the structure "what + a + noun" like the following:
What a morning!
What a mess!
What a hotel!
What a girl! etc.

My question is what does "what a" actually mean? Does it mean "really"?

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