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Articles - Kinds, Usage & Common Errors in their uses

An article is a word that is added to a noun to indicate – the type of reference being made by the noun. It’s a kind of adjective which gives some information about a noun.
The word ‘a’ (becomes ‘an’ when the word that follows begins with a vowels - a, e, i, o, u) is called the ‘indefinite article’ because the noun it combines with is indefinite or general. The word ‘the’ is called the ‘definite article’ as it indicates some specific thing
  • I went by a car.
  • I went by the car.
The above two sentences differ since in the first sentence I went by just any car while the second sentence refers to a particular car and not just any car.

We use ‘A’:

  1. When a word begins with consonant sound
    • a book, a cat, a chair
  2. When a word begins with a vowel but has a consonant sound
    • a university, a one parent family, a Europian
  3. With words that have the sense of one
    • The culprit could not speak a word before the judge.
  4. With abbreviations said as words.
    • a NATO general a FIFA official
  5. We use ‘a’ not ‘one’ when we mean ‘any one of a particular type of thing.
    • I really need a cup of tea. (not ... one cup of tea)
  6. With number and quantity expressions such as:
    • two times a year, a quarter of a litre, a day or so.
  7. Rather than ‘one’ in the pattern a .... of ..... with possessives, as in
    • He’s a friend of mine.
  8. With exclamatory expressions
    • What a wonderful car!, what a good boy he is!
  9. With a person’s name who may be unknown to the person addressed.
    • A peter wants to speak to you on the ‘phone’.

We use ‘An’:

  1. When, the noun you are referring to begins with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u)
    • an orange, an egg, an idea, an umbrella, an Italian.
  2. When the word begins with a silent letter ‘h’.
    • an hour, an honest man, an honour, an heir (= a person who inherits money etc., when someone dies)
  3. With abbreviations said as individual letters that begins with A, E, F, H, I, L, M, N, O, R, S or X:
    • an MLA, an FBI agent, an MP, an x-ray, an MA. However, the abbreviations said as words are exceptions.

We use, ‘The’:

  1. When we say that someone or something is ‘unique’ – that there is only one or only one of its kind – (we also use zero article, i.e., no article, but not a/an):
    • Cricket has become the international sports.
  2. When we refer to a person’s job title, or their particular position.
    • Bob has been appointed the director of the company.
      Sometimes ‘the’ is omitted which is called ‘zero article’.
  3. Before a superlative adjective (the largest, the cheapest, the most beautiful, etc.) when the superlative adjective is followed by a noun or defining phrase:
    • He is the best player in the team at the moment.
  4. When we know that there is only one of a particular thing.
    • the earth, the sun, the world, the international market, the film industry, the south pole, the nuclear family.
  5. When refer to the things in a general way:
    • the environment, the climate, the human race, the wind, the future, the weather, the atmosphere, the ocean, the sea. However, if we describe them for a particular instance, we use a/an and not ‘the’, compare.
  6. When we expect the listener or reader identifies the thing or person we are referring to, on the other hand, a/an is used when we don’t. Compare the following pairs of sentences.
    • Wilson bought the house in Lincoln Street last month
      (= the house we have previously known)
  7. When it is clear from the situation which person or thing we are referring to.
    • What do you think of the carpet? (= the carpet is lying before us)
  8. When we repeat something about something:
    • Bob ordered a cake and an apple pie but the cake was found to be stale. In the sentence, we say a ‘cake’ when we first mention it and ‘the cake’ after that, when the listener knows which cake we are talking about.

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