Articles: 'a', 'an', 'the'

Articles: 'a', 'an', 'the'

Do you know how to use a, an and the? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

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Hello Maria19,

The key is the word 'sound'. A vowel in English is one of five letters: a, e, i, o, u. However, a word can begin with a vowel (letter) but not with a vowel sound (pronunciation).

University is an example of this. The first sound is not /u:/ but /j/, the same sound we have in yellow and yes.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Loc Duc on Thu, 17/12/2020 - 13:29

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Hi, can you explain more about '' something that is part of a group or type'' and ''Do you want sandwich? I've got cheese and bread in the shopping bag.'' why the answer to this question is a. thank you.

Hi Loc Duc,

'Something that is part of a group of type' refers to words like teacher in this sentence: She's a teacher. It means she is a member of a group (a group of people who have the same job - they are all teachers). 

About Do you want ___ sandwich?, this needs 'a' because sandwich is a singular countable noun, and it seems like this is the first mention of the sandwich in the conversation.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by shahidanshaari on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 16:45

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I would like to invite you to be a speaker for the program. Note: only one speaker in that program. Should i use a speaker or the speaker. Some told me “a” coz a job and it’s the first time being mentioned. Some told me “the” coz only one person in the program invited to be the speaker.

Hello shahidanshaari,

The most accurate thing to say here would be 'the', which clearly indicates that there is only one speaker. People might sometimes say 'a', but this could be cause confusion if there's only one speaker.

We use 'a' before professions especially after the verb 'be' (e.g. 'I am a teacher', 'She's an engineer'), but this rule doesn't apply in all circumstances.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user javibuendi

Submitted by javibuendi on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 10:29

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Dear LearnEnglish Team. Why do you write "a university" instead of "an university", if "university" begins with a vowel? Do you know more examples where you write "a + word that begins with a vowel"? Thank you!

Hi javibuendi,

Good question! It's because choosing a or an actually depends on the first sound of the word, not the first letter. In the word university, the first letter is 'u' but the first sound is a consonant: a 'y' sound (or /j/, in the phonetic alphabet). That's why a is used instead of an.

Yes, there are more words like this. Here are some examples: a universe, a union, a uniform, a ukelele, a unique (person), a useful (book).

For the same reason, some words begin with an 'h' but it is silent, so the first sound is a vowel sound. They need an. Here are some examples: an hour, an honour, an honest person.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much for the explanation, Jonathan. Now I see it clearer.