Do you know how to use a, an and the?

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

Language level

Beginner: A1
Pre-intermediate: A2

Hello SHAILESH TIPNIS,

We use a before consonant sounds and an before vowel sounds. However, you need to remember that some words begin with a vowel (letter) but are pronounced with a consonant sound first. University is like this. The first sound is /j/, which is the same sound as at the beginning of words like you, year and yellow. That is why we say a university not an.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Celso Jaya Cabrera,

We moderate all comments before they are published. We normally do this at least a couple of times each day, but this means that some hours can pass before everyone can see your published comments on the site.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

In the first exercise, I did many mistakes but when I read the rule I remember that I was learning already. Conclusion I did completely the next tasks.

Hi Elhamshojaei,

Yes, you can ask questions. In fact, you just did!

We read all comments before they are published on the page. If you have a question then we'll try to answer. We don't provide answers to tasks from elsewhere - after all, we don't want to do people's homework for them - but we are happy to answer questions about the information on our pages or about English more generally if we can.

 

If you do ask a question, please remember that we are a small team here and it may take us a day or two to answer it. We ask users to keep questions short and relevant to the topic of the page. If a question is too long then we may not answer it, as we have to deal with a lot of questions every day.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, teacher! I have one question. We usually put a / an when we mention something for the first time. But what if I mean a concrete item but l mention it for the first time? For example: He burned the house. Yes, I mean a specific house, but this is the first time I mention it. Despite this, I use "the". Can you answer: Am I right and explain me why or why no? Thanks in advance, Sherol

Hello Sherol,

When we say that we use the indefinite article when we mention something for the first time it is really a helpful guide rather than a rule. The true rule is that we use the indefinite article when we are speaking about a non-specific example. In other words, if the listener does not know which particular thing is being referred to, or if it does not matter which one, then we use the indefinite article. On the other hand, if both the listener and speaker know which particular thing is being referred to (it is familiar to both) then we use the definite article.

 

What this means is if I use 'the' then I assume that you know which thing I am referring to. This could be because it has already been mentioned, but it could also be because there is only one (the Moon, the United Nations) or because it is obvious from the context.

Thus, in your example you could use 'the' if both the speaker and the listener know which house you are talking about. Perhaps you are standing in front of it, making it obvious from the context, for example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, sir. The definite article "the" is often put when we talk about location of something. But sometimes it doesn't work. For example: Let me hang your coat on A hook? Or We hung our jackets on hangers. Are there any regularities in the exceptions? Thanks, Sherol

Hello Sherol,

Although there are certainly many exceptions in how articles are used, I wouldn't recommend you try to come up with rules about articles based on ideas such as location. As the explanation above suggests, in most cases, it has to do with whether the noun they are used with has been mentioned yet in the conversation. Whether a noun is singular or plural is also important.

In this case, 'the hook' is also a possible form, but by saying 'a hook', the speaker is probably showing that no one has mentioned hanging the jackets on a hook yet. In the case of 'on hangers', 'on the hangers' is also possible (but not 'on a hangers' since 'hangers is plural').

I'd suggest you have a look at the more detailed explanation in our English Grammar reference, which I think will help you make sense of this.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teacher. I made one sentence: When you write down THE meaning of word you should write like this; ............................................................ Why do I have to use The here?

Hi Sherol,

The is needed because the meaning of a word is definite in this context. It's a specific meaning (not just any meaning). The phrase of a word specifies which meaning is referred to in the sentence.

We often use the before of phrases (e.g. the front of the building; the head of government; the start of the film). 

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

Hi Sir! Swelling is a place on your body that has become larger or rounder than normal as the result of an illness or injury Could I say 'as a result of' instead of 'as the result'? I see my role as being a catalyst for change. - The riots were later seen as the catalyst for the new political developments. What is the difference between "a catalyst" and "the catalyst" here? Thanks a lot for your help.

Hello Sunyoung1005,

'A' suggests that there are multiple items and you are describing one. 'The' suggests that there is only one item, or that other items can be ignored or disregarded.

In these examples both forms are possible.

If you say a catalyst then you are implying that there are multiple catalysts and you are describing one of them. If you say the catalyst then you are suggesting that there is only one catalyst.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teacher, May I know the difference between "the right" and "a right"? You have the right to consult a lawyer. vs Everyone has a right to a fair trial.

Hi cms10,

In this context you can use either 'a' or 'the' in each sentence. You can see it as one of many rights ('a right') or as a particular right which is specified in the sentence ('the right). It's really up to the speaker.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir, Could you help me with this? She is a woman that I admire. She is the woman that I admire. Which is the correct sentence? Or both the sentence above are fine? The next question: What is the difference between these following sentence -She is the one who should be blamed. - she is a person who should be blamed. Thank you,sir

Hello Risa Warysha,

Both of the first two sentences are fine, though only one or the other would be appropriate in specific situations. In general, we use 'a' when are mentioning this woman for the first time and 'the' after that.

As for the other two sentences, the first one suggests that she is the only person, whereas the second one suggests there could be more than one person.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir, I want to know please why we used the article ( a) a not (an) in the following question : Is there a university where you live ?
You're absolutely right Jeje. U is a vowel, but the sound it makes is a consonant, so it is in fact like a word starting with a consonant and not a vowel. You pronounce university: yuniversity with a y at the beginning. Try saying 'an university' and see for yourself how awkward it is!
Hi Sir! I have a question! Why the sentence "money he gave me was not enough" is correct without "the". Because in the sentence I understand, that he refers an specific money (the money he gave him), so, why we can not use "th" before the money?

Hi Aguirre79,

The correct answer to that question is 'The', not no article. I'm not sure why you think no article is correct.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

It is very nice to me to get this listen. I don't get this sentence. The teachers at my son's school are great. This is my uncle Philp. He's a teacher and he lives in London He doesn't like dogs. One bit nim when he was Child. I'm going to take the dog for a walk. Difference The dog. (no the) dogs. The teachers. (no the) a teacher. I would like be clear with this thank you.

Hello Gelebishokarma

'teachers' refers to more than one teacher (in the first sentence, all the teachers in the school) and 'teacher' refers to just one teacher (in the second sentence, Philip).

'dogs' refers to the animal in general, that is, all dogs. He doesn't like any dog anywhere because one dog bit him when he was a child. But the man going on the walk is going with just one dog, not all dogs.

Does that make sense?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Bhavna,

When we use certain title to describe positions which can be attained and we use certain verbs (be, become, be named, be made), we often do not use the definite article. Thus we say:

She become queen in 1947.

He was named king.

Note that while sometimes these words are not capitalised in this context, it is more usual to capitalise them:

She become Queen in 1947.

He was named King.

 

You can read a discussion of the topic here:

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/239193/why-there-is-no-article-before-words-like-queen-and-king

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/88455/king-of-or-the-king-of

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Filip2122,

'Music' is an uncountable noun, so we do not use the article 'a' before it. The correct sentence is I like listening to music.

 

You can read more about uncountable nouns here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/uncount-nouns

 

You can read about countable nouns here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/count-nouns

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir, I always read that indefinite articles are only used with countable nouns then I have gone through some sentences,they have used differently,how it is possible,please sir explain in detail. Follow the sentences. 1) Julie has a beautiful smile. How a is used in the above sentence bco there is no countable noun,please tell me how a works here and tell me the role of a. 2)I have a lot of love for him. Similarly here also how a is used in the above sentence,I dont understand. Please expalin in detail. Thanks.

Hello rizzu8888,

The indefinite article is used with countable nouns rather than with plural nouns or uncountable nouns.

 

In your first sentence, the countable noun is smile. The adjective beautiful describes this noun.

 

In your second sentence, a is not used as an article, but rather as part of a phrase which is a quantifier (a phrase which tells us how much of something we have). The phrase is a lot of and it functions in the same way as other quantifiers like some and lots of.

Some quantifiers can be used with only plural countable nouns, some with only uncountable nouns and some with both. A lot of can be used with both. Here, the noun is love, which is uncountable.

 

You can read more about quantifiers on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/quantifiers

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir Re: do/did Thank you very much for explaining the above 'do' or 'did' Please tell me the sentence given below is grammatically correct or not. e.g., Did you know that my uncle had bought another car? Thank you.. Regards Lal
Hello Sir Re:Do or Did e.g. Did you know that Mozart could play the piano by the time he was five ? Instead of 'did' can't we say 'Do you know... Is it wrong to use 'do' in the above sentence and similar sentences? Please let me know. Thank you. Regards Lal Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

It's normal to use did in questions like this. The past tense is used because the speaker is giving the information in the question, so by the end of the question we know that the other person knows.

It's not wrong to use do but it's much less common.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir. Please explain the sentence below. Keep a safe distance. How 'a' works here bcoz there is no countable noun.

Hello rizzu8888

'distance' can be used as a count noun and also as a noncount noun. Here it is obviously used as a count noun.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

What I've found on grammar-monster.com: The plural of mosquito can be either mosquitos or mosquitoes. Unfortunately, there is no clever way of knowing which nouns ending o follow which rules. You have to know. (For example, you have to know that solo becomes solos, but tomatos becomes tomatoes.) Though mosquitos and mosquitoes are both accepted plurals, mosquitoes is the more common of the two.
Hallo Sir Re: definite article 'the' The mother divided the cake among her three sons. Mother divided the cake among her three sons. Please let me know whether it is all right to use 'the' before 'mother' Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal

Both of those sentences can be correct, depending on what you mean. In the first one, the woman dividing the cake is not the speaker's mother, whereas in the second one she is.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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