Article Notes

The English language uses articles to identify nouns. Articles act much like adjectives. Articles clarify whether a noun is specific or general, singular or plural. An article appears before the noun it accompanies.

There are two types of articles

  • Definite article: the
  • Indefinite article: a, a.

General rules

Place the article before the noun.

e.g., the house the cat a dog a book

Place the article before the adjective when the noun is modified by an adjective.

e.g., the purple house the black cat a white dog an open book < Correct

the house purple or a dog white < Incorrect

Do not add an article when the noun has a possessive pronoun (my, his, her, our, their) or a demonstrative pronoun (this, that).

e.g., my house her book that house this book < Correct

the my house or the this book < Incorrect

DEFINITE ARTICLE: the

Use the to identify specific or definite nouns: nouns that represent things, places, ideas, or persons that can be identified specifically.

Use the with both singular and plural definite nouns.

e.g.,

  • the house, the houses
  • the business, the businesses

Use the to identify things, places, ideas, or persons that represent a specific or definite group or category.

e.g.,

  • The students in Professor Smith’s class should study harder.
  • The automobile revolutionized travel and industry.

(the automobile identifies a specific category of transportation)

INDEFINITE ARTICLE: a or an

Use a or an to identify nouns that are not definite and not specific.

Think of a and an as meaning any or one among many.

e.g.,

  • a book (any book)
  • a dog (any dog)
  • a cat (one cat)
  • a house (one among many houses)

Use a or an only for singular nouns.

Do not use an article for a plural, indefinite noun.

Think of a plural, indefinite noun as meaning all.

e.g.,

  • Students should study hard. (All students should study hard.)

When to use a and when to use an

Choose when to use a or an according to the sound of the noun that follows it.

  • Use a before consonant sounds.

e.g.,

  • a book
  • a dog

Use a before a sounded h, a long u, and o with the sound of w.

e.g.,

  • a hat
  • a house
  • a union
  • a uniform
  • a one-hour appointment

Use an before vowel sounds (except long u).

e.g.,

  • an asset
  • an essay
  • an index
  • an onion
  • an umbrella

Use an when h is not sounded.

e.g.,

  • an honor
  • an hour

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