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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

Hello Dipak Gandhi,

Yes, that's correct. Well done!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

Could you please advise which of the following options is correct or more common and why (generally speaking about horses):

A horse is a fast animal.
The horse is a fast animal.
Horse is a fast animal.

Thanks!

Hi Angie,

Interesting question! Options 1 and 2 are both correct and common. There's a slight difference, though.

  • Option 2 (the horse) seems to talk about the whole species in general.
  • Option 1 (a horse) seems to talk about an imagined indiviudal horse that is representative of the species.

In most situations, this difference won't be important and both options would work.

Option 3 isn't correct. An article is needed before horse.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks indeed - it does make sense!

What would be the correct sentence?
1-Raghu is an actor and writer.
2- Raghu is an actor and a writer.
Can only article 'an' be written before actor and article 'a' be omitted before writer, even though 'an' cannot be used with writer…? Please clarify.
Thank you.

Hello amrita_enakshi,

If you are writing this for publication somewhere, then probably the style guide used by the publisher will prefer one over the other, but in most situations, both of these sentences are correct and mean the same thing. In my own writing, I'd choose 2 over 1.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Thank you Sir.

Can we say 'a cat and dog','a man and woman' and the like?

Hello Sheikh Salauddin

Yes, you can say that, though in some cases it can be better to say, for example, 'a cat and a dog'. It depends on the situation and what you mean.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir,

I have two questions.

1. In the sentence 'He is terrible at keeping his accounts in order.'

'He has been a terrible father.'

I have noted that terrible has both positive and negative meanings. But how to know when terrible is used in positive sense and when in negative sense?

2. In the sentence 'Come and sit at the table.' why 'at the table' why not 'on the table.'

Please expalin to me.

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