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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

Exercise 4, last question : why an indefinite article before 'US' in 'does he have - US passport' - generally it is 'the' before
'US'

Hi dipakrgandhi,

Good question! It's because in this sentence, US is describing the other noun, passport. US isn't the main noun in the phrase. So, the article we choose depends on the main noun, passport (not on any other nouns that describe it).

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Great answer Sir ! So 'US' here is working like an adjective ! Understood !

Thank you

Regards

Dipak Gandhi

Hi Dipak,

Yes! Exactly :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, very recently I read a sentence having in it an indefinite article 'a' before 'most' - I cannot recall the sentence now. Earlier also I have come across sentences having 'a' before 'most'. Would you kindly enlighten us when can we use an indefinite article before most, which is otherwise preceded by the definite article 'the' the most of the times. And is it correct to use 'the' after ' "the" ' - the way I have used in the previous sentence.

Thank you

Regards

Dipak R Gandhi

Hi dipakrgandhi,

Yes! You may have seen some examples like these.

  • It was a most excellent meal.
  • This is a most dangerous situation.
  • She was a most valuable member of the team.

In those examples, the meaning is 'very' or 'extremely'. This is different to, for example, She was the most valuable member of the team, which means she was the 'number one most valuable' or the absolute best.

Using the indefinite article with most in this way is a relatively formal in style. We can only use this structure with most - we can't use it with single-word superlatives (e.g. we can't say 'It was a best meal').

 

About your sentence, it should be most of the time (without the before most, and with time instead of times). 

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you sir ! I should have looked into dictionary for all the meanings of 'most', but I never thought of 'most' having any other meaning than superlative adjective !

Hello the Learn English Team,

I wanted to ask a sentence that I quoted from www.teachingenglish.org.uk
It's about a webinar speaker.

About the speaker
Steve Walsh is Professor of Applied Linguistics and Communication
in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences,
Newcastle University, UK, where he was, until recently, Head of
Department.

I sometimes read a text in English and write it down. When I read I didn't realise but when I wrote it something came to my attention.

In the above sentence, why wasn't it said "Steve Walsh is a Professor ..." with the indefinite article "a"

And why wasn't it said "Head of the Department" with the definite article "the"

As I know we use articles before profession and we use the definite article before Department for the reason it is specific and mentioned before.

Thanks for answering.
Have a beautiful day.

Hello knownman,

There are several possibilities here, depending on whether you are using a title or a description of a position:

Steve Walsh is Professor of Applied Linguistics and Communication

This is his title

Steve Walsh is the professor of Applied Linguistics and Communication

This is his position; there is only one such position.

Steve Walsh is a professor of Applied Linguistics and Communication

This is his position; there are several such positions; he is one of several.

 

As the word 'professor' is capitalised, I assume the write was using it as a title, so no article makes sense.

 

'Head of Department' functions in a similar way.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Please! Which one is correct? Why?
- Cairo Metro will extend from Imbaba to Cairo airport.
- The Cairo Metro will extend from Imbaba to Cairo airport.
Thank you.

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