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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


The indefinite article 2


The indefinite article 3


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




Hi Sam61

Ultimately, the meaning of words and sentences is dependent on their context, but in general, yes, those three sentences about lions mean the same thing, though, as I suspect you've already noticed, the use of 'the' here is not very common. In the other set of examples, you are right, 'the' implies that the person reading or hearing the sentence has already heard about the infected computers.

The definite article 'the' before 'lions' is used to speak about an entire class of living things or objects. In this case, it's lions, but it could be a species of plants, musical instruments, a make of automobile or even personal computers, but note that it wouldn't be appropriate to speak about infected computers, as that is not a class of computers but rather a smaller set of all computers. You would need to be speaking about all computers (e.g. 'The computer revolutionised communications in the early 21st century') for the use of 'the' to be appropriate, and even then, it would be more common to just say 'Computers' instead of 'The computer'.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please help me?
Is the word "position" in the following sentence right to use or we should use another word.
The university has an international position as a centre of chemistry research.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Yes, I think that sounds fine. There are several other ways to say this as well:

The university has an international position as a centre of chemistry research.

The university has an international reputation as a centre of chemistry research.

The university has international standing as a centre of chemistry research.



The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, I want to know if I'm correct in the usage of "an" in the construction below
"Get an Education and not Degree"

Hello Akong,

'An' is correct here, but you also need an article before 'degree:

Get an education and not a degree.


As an aside, it is of course possible to get both an education and a degree...



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir!
1.''John was appointed as superintendent of police, City.''
2. ''He was posted as assistant director research wing.''
''superintendent'' and ''assistant director'' are countable nouns. But in the first sentence, ''a'' and ''an'' are not put before superintendent and assistant director respectively. Would it be correct if I put ''a'' and ''an'' before before it respectively? Sir please explain it to me, and suggest me a link, if there is, where I get to know where one should not use an indefinite article before countable nouns.

Hello ali shah,

There is a choice here. It is possible to use an article or not.

When no article is used the terms Superintendent of Police, City and Assistant Director, Reseach Wing are titles (and shoudl be capitalised), just as we would say elected President or crowned King.

When an article is used the terms are used in a descriptive sense rather than as titles. If you say a superintendent then we understand that there are several superintendents of police, and John is one of them. If you say the superintendent of police then we understand that there is only one such position (but it is a descriptive term, not a title) and John now holds it.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Sir. Peter. God bless you.

i want to ask a general question if you don't mind
what is the difference between those three pages for grammar ( English grammar / beginner grammar / intermediate grammar ? and that page in cambridge web site ? and finally how could you advice me to provide my grammar and what can i do to speak well ?

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,
The LearnEnglish Team