Articles in English

by Viv Quarry (

Articles are words which may or may not be used before a noun to demonstrate if the noun is new to the listener or reader (the indefinite article) or if the listener or reader already knows exactly what we are talking about (the definite article). Articles are part of a group of words called 'determiners'.


The Indefinite Article (A or An).

We use A/An with singular, countable nouns when mentioning them for the first time.


They have two children, a boy and a girl.


There's a new hospital in the city centre. (See notes 24, 28 &29 below)


We use 'A' before a noun or adjective which begins with a consonant sound.


I'd like a cup of tea.              She's got a blue bag.


We use 'An' before a noun or adjective which begins with a vowel sound.


I'd like an orange juice.                 She's got an exceptional memory.


Sometimes a word begins with a consonant, but the word has a vowel sound. In this case use 'An' (see note 4 below)


I'll see you in an hour. (pronounced /AU UH/)           She's doing an MBA. (pron. /EM BEE AY/)


Sometimes a word begins with a vowel, but the word has a consonant sound. In this case use 'A'.


He's got a European car. (pron. /YOOR UH PEE UN/)   Is there a university in Campos? (pron. /YOO NI VER SI TEE/)



In some countries, the word for A/An is the same as the word for the number 1. In English we

only use '1' when we want to specify that there are not two, three or four of something.


She's got a new car.


Has she got two cars?

No, she hasn't. She's only got one car.


There are certain specific cases when we must normally use an article, and other situations where an article is not usually necessary. You should try to learn these special cases.


Use 'A' or 'An' with:

1. Professions    

I'm a teacher.                                                         She's an architect.

2. Some expressions of quantity     

A lot of                                                                  A couple of sth.

A little                                                                   A thousand

A few                                                                             Three times a day

A pair of shoes.                                                      Forty miles an hour

3. Exclamations with What + countable noun

What a lovely day!                                                  What a terrible hat!

4. Use 'An' with silent consonants (see introduction above)

An honour                                                             An honest person


Don't use A or An with:

5. Plural nouns                                                       7. Meals

X Children usually go to school.                               I had X breakfast at 8.30.

6. Uncountable nouns                                              8. Abstract nouns (see 27 below)

Buy X bread and X milk, please.                              X Heavy industry causes X pollution.


The Definite Article (The).

We use 'The' before all nouns which are mentioned for a second (or third, fourth etc.) time, or which both speaker and listener already know about.


They have two children, a boy and a girl. The girl is six and the boy is 10.


I'm just going to the supermarket. Do we need anything?

Where are the kids? In the garden.


The definite article (the) can be pronounced in two ways:


/DHUH/ before a consonant sound e.g. the cat = /DZUH KAT/


/DZEE/ before a vowel sound e.g. the eggs = /DZEE EGZ/


Use 'The' with:

9. Nouns where there is only one

The President                                                         The sun

10. Ordinal numbers

The first                                                                The fifth time

11. Superlatives

The best                                                                The most beautiful place in the world.

12. Geographical areas

The Middle East                                                     The Midwest

13. Nationality and geopolitical adjectives when followed by a noun or defining the people

The Federal University                                   The International Airport (see 39 below)

14. Seas & oceans

The Atlantic                                                           The Mediterranean

15. Rivers & deserts

The Nile                                                                The Sahara

16. Most hotels

The Hilton                                                             The Copacabana Palace Hotel

17. Pubs

The Red Lion                                                         The Queen's Legs

18. Theatres and cinemas

The Odeon                                                             The Municipal Theatre

19. Museums

The Museum of Modern Art                                     The Carmen Miranda Museum

20. Newspapers

The New York Times                                               The Guardian

21. Mountain ranges (see 35 below)

The Himalayas                                                       The Alps

22. Groups of countries, islands or states

The Bahamas                                                         The EEC

23. Musical instruments

Play the piano                                                        Good on the violin

24. Public buildings (see 28&29 below)

When I was in Oxford I saw the university.                She works at the hospital on Fridays.

25. Radio and computer (see 38 below)

I heard it on the radio.                                            It's on the computer at work.


Don't use 'The' or 'A/An' with:

26. When talking about people and things in general.   Cat's like milk.


27. Uncountable and abstract nouns (see 8 above)      X Heavy industry causes X pollution.

     unless defined                                                    The pollution in the city centre is worse today.


28. Places where the focus is on the activity which    I went to X university to take an exam.

takes place there. (See 24 above)                              The kids were at X school all day.


29. Prison & hospital if a prisoner or patient              She spent three months in X prison.

(See 24 above)                                                       We took her to X hospital after the accident.


30. Continents

He travelled across X Asia.                                      Monaco is in X Europe.

31. Countries

X Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world.        X Russia is the biggest.

32. Towns

X London is the capital of the UK.                           X Rio de Janeiro isn't the capital of Brazil.

33. Streets

I live in X Oxford street.                                          X Park Lane is in the centre of London.

34. Lakes

X Lake Titicaca is between Bolivia and Peru.            X Lake Victoria is in Africa.

35. Mountains (see 21 above)

I wanted to climb X Mount Everest.                          X Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK

36. Possessive 's'

It's X John's book.                                                  X Brazil's economic situation.

37. All + time expression

I've been waiting all X day.                                     We spent all X week there.

38. TV and most recording media (see 25 above)

I saw it on X TV.                                                    I've saved it on X cd-rom.

39. Airports (see 13 above)

I arrived at X JFK at 6am.                                      What time do you get in to X Heathrow?

40. With most countable clothes and parts of the body we use a possessive adjective, not 'the'

He put on his coat and shoes.                          I hurt my arm playing rugby.

(after prepositions we often use 'the')''                      He patted me on the back.

Note! For every grammatical rule, there is usually at least one exception!!!

Upper-intermediate/advanced practice exercises 


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