Indefinite Articles: A / An
A pencil or an apple
An indefinite article goes in front of a noun. It is used to talk about a singular noun (there is only one), but not a specific one.
Example: I want to buy a house.
(I want to buy just one house, but I am not sure which house yet. Any house might be ok.)
- Use “a” before nouns starting with a consonant sound. Example: A pencil, a book, a spaceship…
- Use “an” before nouns starting with a vowel sound. An eraser, an umbrella, an alien…
Definite Articles: The
The person, the idea, the trip
A definite article also goes in front of a noun. It is used to talk about one specific noun. It is defining exactly which one noun you are talking about.
Example: I want to buy the pink house on the corner.
(I want to buy a house, and I know that the exact one house I want to buy is the pink one on the corner.)
More times to use “the”
- Before superlatives
Example: It is the best house on the block.
- Before ordinals (first, second, third…)
Example: This was the first house to be build on the street.
- Before words like only, sole, same
Example: This is the only house I want to buy. It is the same color as my car.
- When adjectives such as poor, wealthy, healthy or elderly are used as a noun describing a group of people all with that trait
Example: Extreme heat poses a threat to the very young and the elderly.
When NOT to use an article
Most of the time you need to put an article in front of singular nouns, but there are some exceptions.
- Proper names
You should not use an article when talking about a proper name.
Example: I am talking to William. (I wouldn’t say “the William” unless there were five people, all named William, in front of me and I had to define which William I meant: “I am talking to the William in the red shirt.”)
- Most places and Institutions that begin with a proper name.
Example: I am going to JFK to catch my flight.
(There are exceptions to this: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner (and snacktime!) do not need an article in front of them.
Example: I am eating breakfast.
- Names of months, days, times of day and holidays
With the exception of “in the morning/afternoon/evening”, you do not need an article.
Example: I saw her in February. I went there on Tuesday. I ate lunch at noon. I look forward to Christmas.
- Certain Geographical Locations
Continents, countries (that do not have a plural name or Republic in the name), cities, lakes, mountains and street names usually do not take an article.
Example: You can see Lake Ontario in Toronto. Toronto is a city in Canada, which is a country in North America.
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