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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

I have a question: How to differentiate between the two usages - 'one of a group' and 'a job' - of indefinite articles? For example: She is a student at London Road School. Which is the reason for using 'a'? Thank you!

Hello Wang Zijian,

As far as I know, there is no easy way to distinguish these two uses from the sentence alone. The context would probably do this. For example, if this was the answer to a question, the question would probably indicate which use this is. In a general sense, they are the same use, as we can think of a profession as a group of people.

I hope this helps you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

I am a little confused with the use of the artilces , can you explain me the difference between the following and are they grammatically correct?

A zebra is balck and white.
The Zebra is black and white

Why a is placed before little or few although these are not noun?

Hello liton,

In these cases, 'a' is a part of a larger phrase -- in other words, 'a little' is a unit that can't be separated. 'little' and 'a little' mean different things, and 'few' or 'a few' also. This Cambridge Dictionary page explains the difference quite well, so I'll refer you to it. But if you have any questions, please let us know.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, teacher. Can you please tell me if the following sentences are correct? Can I skip the article for cup and jug?

1. She bought a bottle, a cup and a jug.
2. She bought a bottle, cup and jug.

Thank you.

Omy

Hello Omyhong,

Both sentences are correct. In 2, the three items sound as if they are a unit more than in 1 (e.g. perhaps they are sold together, though not necessarily), but in most cases the two sentences would mean the same thing.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Omyhong,

Yes, in both cases, you must use 'a'. There are two ways you can look at this. The first is that 'bath' is a singular count noun, and normally some kind of article is used before singular count nouns. You could also think of 'take a bath' as a kind of fixed expression -- it's just the way we say this.

I hope this helps you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Can I just write 'Dog likes to eat meat' rather than 'A dog likes to eat meat'? Is it grammatically correct?

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