The words a, an, and the are special adjectives called articles.
Indefinite Articles: (a & an)
an - used before singular count nouns beginning with a vowel (A, E, I, O, U) or vowel sound:
- an apple, an elephant, an issue, an orange, an HD TV, an hour
a - used before singular count nouns beginning with consonants (other than A, E, I, O, U) :
- a stamp, a desk, a TV, a cup, a book
Definite Article: (the)
Can be used before singular & plural, count & non-count nouns
Count Nouns (or countable nouns) are nouns that have a singular & plural form because you can count them (1 dog, 2 dogs, 3 dogs. 1 teacher, 3 books, 76 trombones, 1,000,000 people.)
- You can put a number in front of a count noun.
- You can make a count noun plural.
- You can put both 'a/an' and the in front of a count noun.
- You must put an article in front of a singular count noun.
- You use a plural count noun with no article if you mean all or any of that thing.
- You usually use 'a/an' with a count noun the first time you say or write that noun.
- You use 'the' with count nouns:
- the second and subsequent times you use the noun in a piece of speech or writing
- when the listener knows what you are referring to (maybe because there is only one of that thing)
- You use 'an' (not a) when the next word (adverb, adjective, noun) starts with a vowel sound.
Non-Count Nouns (or uncountable nouns) are nouns that do not have a plural form. You cannot count non-count nouns (you can't say 1 music, 2 musics, 3 musics. 1 water, 2 lucks, 10 airs, 32 oils, 100 informations.)
- You CANNOT say 'a/an' with an uncountable noun.
- You CANNOT put a number in front of an uncountable noun.
- You CANNOT make an uncountable noun plural.
- *You can use an uncountable noun with no article if you mean that thing in general.
- *You can use 'the' with an uncountable noun when you are talking about a particular example of that thing.
- Uncountable nouns are often preceded by phrases such as:
a lot of (luck), a piece of (cake), a bottle of (milk), a grain of (rice), a load of (dirt).
- The above rules apply whether there is or there is NOT an adjective in front of the noun.
- Instead of an article, the noun could also be preceded by a determiner such as this, that, some, many or my, his, our, etc.
1. Indefinite Article (a, an)
Used before singular nouns that are unspecified:
When you talk about one of something, it's much more natural and more common to use 'a' or 'an' instead of saying 'one'. You can replace 'one' with a/an. It's not wrong to say 'one', it just doesn't sound natural.
- Tereza has a son!
- He has a dog and a cat.
- We just bought a new flat!
- Can I borrow a dollar?
- I brought a pair of pants and a new shirt!
- It takes about an hour. (It takes one hour.)
NOTE: 'a' and 'an' are only used with singular count nouns!
Do NOT use 'a' or 'an' with non-count nouns.
INCORRECT: I am looking for an information.
One of my friends is from America! (You can NOT say "a of my friends")
you can say: A friend of mine is from America!
Used before number collectives and some numbers:
Used before a singular noun followed by a restrictive modifier:
- a girl who was wearing a yellow hat
Used with nouns to form adverbial phrases of quantity, amount, or degree:
2. Definite Article (the)
Used to indicate a noun that is definite or has been previously specified in the context:
- Please close the door.
- I like the clothes you gave me.
Used to indicate a noun that is unique:
- Praise the Lord!
- The Vltava River runs by the castle.
- Look at all of the stars in the sky tonight!
- In 1969, the United States was the first country to put a man on the moon.
- The Earth revolves around the sun, while the moon revolves around the Earth
- The headquarters of the United Nations is in New York City.
- The government has increased taxes again this year. (Usually there is only one government at a time, whether it is the government of a country, state, or city.)
Used to designate a natural phenomenon:
- The nights get shorter in the summer.
- The wind is blowing so hard.
Used to refer to a time period:
- I was very nave in the past.
- This song was very popular in the 1980s.
Used to indicate all the members of a family:
- I invited the Bakers for dinner.
- This medicine was invented by the Smiths.
When to NOT Use Articles (a, an, the):
1. Things in general
You don't need an article when you talk about things in general.
the ≠ all
1a. Plural Count Nouns:
- Dogs are great pets! (You're not talking about one specific dog or one specific pet. You're talking about all dogs and all pets in general.)
- Women love it when men send them flowers!
- Houses are expensive in that neighborhood.
- Americans drive big cars.
- I love reading books.
1b. Non-Count Nouns:
- I love listening to music. (You enjoy music in general,
not any specific song or kind of music.)
- She's afraid of heights, so we couldn't go to the top of the Powder Tower.
- I love chocolate!
- Have you eaten lunch yet?
- She's a vegetarian. I eat meat.
Names of holidays, countries, companies, languages, etc. are all proper nouns.
You don't need to use an article with a proper noun.
- I got a beautiful new dress for Christmas.
- I bought my mom a necklace for Mother's Day.
- Everybody wears green on St. Patrick's Day.
- What are you doing on Valentine's Day?
Articles are NOT used before countries, states, cities, towns, continents, single lakes, or single mountains.
- I live in Prague.
- I'm going on vacation to America next summer.
- Lake Superior and Lake Huron are 2 of the Great Lakes. (The Great Lakes are a group of lakes on the border between the USA and Canada.)
- Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan.
- Mt. Rosa is part of the Alps mountain range.
(Mt. Rosa is one mountain. The Alps describe a group of mountains.)
Exception: 'The' is part of the names of these countries:
the United States, the Czech Republic, the Philippines
- Steve Jobs founded Apple.
- I use Twitter and Facebook every day.
- Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the U.S.
- McDonald's has restaurants in 119 countries.
The McDonald's in New Town (specific location, not company in general)
- I studied at Charles University
- Her son graduated from Stanford.
- She goes to Oxford.
- He applied to Cambridge, Yale, and Harvard.
However, if the name of the university begins with University, then you must use the:
- My parents have master's degrees from the University of Minnesota.
NOTE: You do NOT need an article for subjects you study at school:
architecture, engineering, math, geography, business, history, science.
- I teach students in Prague how to speak English.
- I am studying Czech.
- I speak Spanish.
- Some people speak French in Canada.
3. Places, locations, streets
Streets, some locations, and some places do not need an article:
- I left my book at home.
- My office is located on Karmelitská.
- Did you go to school today?
- You're studying architecture at school.
- When I was in high school, everyone had to study Spanish.
- I usually go to church on Sundays.
- Good people end up in heaven.
- Good night everyone! I'm going to bed.
- I have to go to work early tomorrow.
Places where you DO need to use an article:
- Let's go to the movies.
- I need to go to the bank.
- My dad is in the hospital.
- She works at the post office.
- What time do you have to be at the airport?
- We all wait at the tram station.
- I don't like to go to the doctor or the dentist.
Sports and other physical activities do not need an article:
- I love to go skiing in the winter.
- I play football every day after school.
- He loves watching hockey on TV.
- She does yoga 3 times a week.
- Her daughter really enjoys dancing.
5. Noun + Number
- The train to Paris leaves from platform 2.
- He's staying at the Hilton hotel in room 221.
- My English class is in room 202 on the second floor.
("second" describes the floor as an adjective in this sentence.)
An acronym is an abbreviation (a short form) of a name.
It uses the first letter of each word to form a new word.
6a. If the acronym is pronounced as a word, do NOT use 'the'.
- NATO ambassadors met to discuss the wars.
NATO is pronounced as one word.
NATO is the acronym used for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
- UNESCO was formed in 1946.
UNESCO is pronounced as one word. UNESCO is the acronym used for
the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
You need to use 'the' before acronyms when the letters are pronounced individually, not as a word.
- The UN was created after the Second World War.
UN is used to represent the United Nations.
UN is pronounced "you-N". It is not pronounced "un", like in the word under.
Other acronyms that need 'the':
- the EU
- the U.S.
- the CIA (not MI6)
- the FBI
6b. 'The' is NOT used before university acronyms:
- John got his MBA at UCLA.
- She has a Ph.D. from MIT.
Choose the correct article in each sentence.
1) Did you bring ___ (a, an, the) umbrella?
2) Are you looking for ___ (a, an, the) shampoo?
3) I checked ___ (a, an, the) mailbox again.
4) Can I have ___ (a, an, the) spoon please?
5) I was born into ___ (a, an, the) poor family.
6) She will come back in ___ (a, an, the) hour.
7) Have you been to ___ (a, an, the) Space Needle Tower in Seattle?
8) I would love to talk to one of ___ (a, an, the) managers.
9) What ___ (a, an, the) amazing view!
10) The helicopter landed on ___ (a, an, the) roof of a building.
A determiner, also called determinative (abbreviated "det"), is a word, phrase, or affix that occurs together with a noun or noun phrase and serves to express the reference of that noun or noun phrase in the context. That is, a determiner may indicate whether the noun is referring to a definite or indefinite element of a class, to a closer or more distant element, to an element belonging to a specified person or thing, to a particular number or quantity, etc.
Common kinds of determiners include: definite & indefinite articles (the / a / an), demonstratives (this / that), possessive determiners (my / their), quantifiers (many / few / several), numerals (1 / 2 / 3), distributive determiners (each / any), and interrogative determiners (which).