Articles: A, An, and The

Report
Articles: A, An, and
The
A Guide for ESL Students
Countable, Non-countable, and
Abstract Nouns
• To understand when to use articles, you should be aware of
these three types of nouns.
• Countable nouns are things that can be counted.
• Most nouns are countable nouns, like tree, cat, and shoe.
• Countable nouns have both a plural and a singular form.
• Some nouns are neither fully plural or singular, because they
can’t be counted.
• Nouns like milk and air are non-countable nouns.
• A special type of non-countable nouns are abstract nouns.
Abstract nouns are ideas rather than people, places or things.
• Nouns like happiness and intelligence are abstract nouns.
A/An
• Use a/an for singular countable nouns.
• Right: I have a cat.
• Wrong: I have cat.
• Use a for nouns that start with a consonant sound and an for nouns
that start with a vowel sound.
•
•
•
•
Right: A bird sat in a tree.
Wrong: An bird sat in a tree.
Right: An ostrich is a big bird.
Wrong: A ostrich is a big bird.
• Also use an when the noun is preceded by an adjective that begins
with a vowel sound, even when the noun starts with a consonant
sound.
• Right: It was an obvious choice.
• Wrong: It was a obvious choice.
• A/an is for non-specific nouns. A cat could mean any cat, not
necessarily a particular one.
The
• Use the when you mean a particular thing, or the only
one.
• Example: A bird sat in the tree.
• Unlike a/an, you can use the for both singular and plural
words.
• Example: Birds sat in the trees.
• You can also use the for non-countable nouns, but not for
abstract nouns.
• Example: Did you get the milk?
Pronouns and Proper Nouns
• Pronouns never have articles.
• Most proper nouns don’t have articles, although
some countries, and organizations have The as
part of their name. In that case, The should be
capitalized.
• Some proper nouns containing The: The Home
Depot, The United States of America
Generalities
• In some languages, like Spanish, an article is
always used for nouns being discussed in a
general sense. In English, generalities never get
an article.
• Right: Roses need plenty of sunlight.
• Wrong: The roses need plenty of sunlight.
• In the second sentence, the use of the changes
the meaning. Instead of roses in general, the
sentence now discusses some particular roses.
Quick Checklist: Must-haves for
A/An and The
A/An
• Non-specific
• Singular
• Countable
The
• Specific
• Singular or plural
• Countable or Noncountable (except for
abstract nouns)
Spot the Errors
Sweet potatoes are popular vegetable with many possibilities
for both sweet and savory dishes. Many people are familiar with
desserts like sweet potato pie and roasted sweet potatoes with
marshmallows, but have you tried the sweet potatoes with
garlic or rosemary? Sweet potatoes add a interesting touch of
sweetness to many dishes.
A Correct Version
Sweet potatoes are a popular vegetable with many possibilities
for both sweet and savory dishes. Many people are familiar with
desserts like sweet potato pie and roasted sweet potatoes with
marshmallows, but have you tried sweet potatoes with garlic or
rosemary? Sweet potatoes add an interesting touch of
sweetness to many dishes.
Bonus: You may have thought sweet potato pie would be a
countable noun, because one can count individual pies. In this
case it is being used as the name of a particular dish, not an
individual object.
Don’t Worry If You Get It
Wrong.
Articles are one of the most difficult aspects of learning a
language. It takes many years of practice to consistently use
them correctly. Many non-native speakers who speak and write
English well still have problems with articles.
Most of the time, people will be able to understand what you
mean, even if the articles are wrong. Just keep trying, and
remember that everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Think
about how far you’ve come in your language learning!

similar documents