1. a/an (The indefinite article).
The form a is used before a word beginning with a consonant, or a vowel with a consonant sound:
a man a hat a university a European
a one-way street
The form an is used before words beginning with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or words beginning with a mute h:
An apple an island an uncle
An egg an union an hour
Or individual letters spoken with a vowel sound:
An L-plate an MP an SOS an ‘x’
a/an is the same for all genders:
a man a woman an actor an actor an actress
- 2. Use of a/an
a/an is used:
- Before a singular noun which is countable (i.e. of which there is more that one) when it is mentioned for the first time and represents no particular person or thing:
I need a Visa. They live in a flat. He bought an ice-cream.
- Before a singular countable noun which is used as an example of a class of thing:
A car must be insured = All cars/Any car must be insured.
A child needs love = All children need/Any child needs love.
- With a noun complement. This includes names of professions:
It was an earthquake. She’ll be a dancer. He is an actor.
- In certain expressions of quality:
A lot of a couple
A great many a dozen (but one dozen is also possible).
A great deal of
- With certain numbers:
A hundred a thousand
Before half when half follows a whole number:
1½ kilos = one and a half kilos or a kilo and a half.
But ½ kg = half a kilo (no a before half), though a + half + noun is sometimes possible:
A half-holiday a half-portion a half-share
With ½, ⅓, ¼, etc. a is usual: a third, a quarter etc., but one is also possible.
- In expressions of price, speed, ratio etc.:
5p a kilo £1 a metre sixty kilometres an hour
10p a dozen four times a day
(Here a/an = Per).
- In exclamations before singular, countable noun:
Such a long queue! What a pretty girl! But
Such long queues! What pretty girls!
- a can be placed before Mr/Mrs/Miss + surname:
a Mr Smith a Mrs Smith a Miss Smith
a Mr Smith means ‘a man called Smith’ and implies that he is a stranger to the speaker. Mr Smith, without a, implies that the speaker knows Mr Smith or knows of his existence.
- 3. Omission of a/an.
a/an is omitted:
- Before plural nouns.
a/an has no plural form. So the plural of a dog is dogs, and of an egg is eggs.
- Before uncountable nouns:
Uncountable nouns are always singular and are not used with a/an:
I don’t want (any) advice or help. I want (some) information.
He has had no experience in this sort of work.
These nouns are often preceded by some, any, no, a little etc. or by nouns such as bit, piece, slice etc. + of:
|A bit of news||A grain of sand||A pot of jam|
|A cake of soap||A pane of glass||A sheet of paper|
|A drop of oil||A piece of advice||—|
- Before names of meals, except when these are preceded by an adjective:
We have breakfast at eight.
He gave us a good breakfast.
The article is also used when it is a special meal given to celebrate something or in someone’s honour:
I was invited to dinner (at their house, in the ordinary way) but
I was invited to a dinner given to welcome the new ambassador.
- 4. a/an and one.
- a/an and one (adjective).
1) When counting or measuring time, distance, weight etc. we can use either a/an or one for the singular:
£1 = a/one pound £1.000,000 = a/one million pounds
But note that in The rent is £100 a week the a before week is not repleceable by one.
In other types of statement a/an and one are not normally interchangeable, because one + noun normally means ‘one only/not more than one’ and a/an does not mean this:
A shotgun is no good. (it is the wrong sort of thing).
One shotgun is no good. (I need two or three).
2) Special uses of one.
- One (adjective/pronoun) used with another/others:
One (boy) wanted to read, another/others wanted to watch TV.
One day he wanted his lunch early, another day he wanted it late.
- One can be used before day/week/month/year/summer/winter etc. or before the name of the day or month to denote a particular time when something happened:
One night there was a terrible storm.
One winter the snow fell early.
One day a telegram arrived.
- One day can also be used to mean ‘at some future date’:
One day you’ll be sorry you treated him so badly.
(Some day would also be possible).
- a/an and one (pronoun).
One is the pronoun equivalent of a/an:
Dis you get a ticket? – Yes, I managed to get one.
The plural of one used in this way is some:
Did you get tickets? – Yes, I maneged to get some.
The (The Definite Article).
The is the same for singular and plural and for all genders:
|The boy||The girl||The day|
|The boys||The girls||The days|
The definite article is used:
- When the object or group of objects is unique or considered to be unique:
|The earth||The sea||The sky||The equator||The stars|
- Before a noun which has become definite as a result of being mentioned a second time:
His car struck a tree; you can still see the mark on the tree.
- Before a noun made definite by the addition of a phrase or clause:
|The girl in the blue||The man with the banner|
|The boy that I met||The place where I met him|
- Before a noun which by reason of locality can represent only one particular thing:
Ann is in the garden. (the garden of this house)
Please pass the wine. (the wine on the table)
Similarly: the postman (the one who comes to us), the car (our car), the newspaper (the one we read).
- Before superlatives and first, second etc. used as adjectives or pronouns, and only:
|The first (week)||The best day||The only way|
- The + singular noun can represent a class of animals or things:
The whale is in danger of becoming extinct.
The deep-freeze has made life easier for housewives.
But man, used to represent the human race, has no article:
If oil supplies run out, man may have to fall back on the horse.
The can be used before a member of a certain group of people:
The small shopkeeper is finding life increasingly difficult.
The + singular noun as used above takes a singular verb. The pronoun is he, she or it:
The first-class traveller pays more so he expects some comfort.
- The + adjective represents a class of persons:
The old = old people in general.
- The is used before certain proper names of seas, rivers, groups of islands, chains of mountains, plural names of countries, deserts, regions:
|The Atlantic||The Netherlands|
|The Thames||The Sahara|
|The Azores||The Crimea|
|The Alps||The Riviera|
And before certain other names:
|The City||The Mall||The Sudan|
|The Hague||The Strand||The Yemen|
The is also used before names consisting of noun + of + noun:
|The bay of Biscay||The Gulf of Mexico|
|The Cape of Good Hope||The United State of America|
The is used before names consisting of adjective + noun (provided the adjective is not east, west etc,):
|The Arabian Sea||The New Forest||The High Street|
The is used before the adjectives east/west etc. + noun in certain names:
|The East/West End||The East/West Indies|
|The North/South Pole|
But is normally omitted:
|South Africa||North America||West Germany|
The, however, is used before east/west etc. when these are nouns:
|The north of Spain||The West (geographical)|
|The Middle East||The West (political)|
Compare Go north (adverb: in a northerly direction) with he lives in the north (noun: an area in the north).
- The is used before other proper names consisting of adjective + noun or noun + of + noun:
|The National Gallery||The Tower of London|
It is also used before names of choirs, orchestras, pop groups etc.:
|The Bach Choir||The Philadelphia Orchestra||The Beatles|
And before names of newspapers (The Times) and ships (the Great Britain).
- The with names of people has a very limited use. The + plural surname can be used to mean ‘the … family’:
The Smith = Mr and Mrs Smith (and children)
The + singular name + clause/phrase can be used to distinguish one person from another of the same name:
We have two Mr. Smith. Which do you want? – I want the Mr Smith who signed this letter.
The is used before titles containing of (the Duke of York) but it is not used before other titles or ranks (Lord Oliver, Captain Cook), though if someone is reffered to by title/rank alone the is used:
The eart expected… The captain ordered…
Letters written to two or more unmarried sisters jointly may be addressed the Misses + surname: The Misses Smith.
Omission of the
- The definite article is not used:
- Before names of places except as shown above, or before names of people.
- Before abstract nouns except when they are used in a particular sense:
Men fear death but
The death of the Prime Minister left his party without a leader.
- After a noun in the possessive case, or a possessive adjective:
The boy’s uncle = the uncle of the boy
It is my (blue) book = the (blue) book is mine.
- Before names of meals:
The Scots have porridge for breakfast but
The wedding breakfast was held in her father’s house.
- Before names of games : he plays golf.
- Before parts of the body and articles of clothing, as these normally prefer a possessive adjective:
Raise your right hand. He took off his coat.
But notice that sentences of the type:
She seized the child by the collar.
I patted his shoulder.
The brick hit John’s face.
Similarly in the passive:
He was hit on the head. He was cut in the hand.
- Note that in some European languages the definite article is used before indefinite plural nouns but that in English the is never used in this way:
Women are expected to like babies. (i.e. women in general).
Big hotels all over the world are very much the same.
If we put the before women in the first example, it would mean that we were referring to a particular group of women.
- Nature, where it means the spirit creating and motivating the world of plants and animals etc., is used without the:
If you interfere with nature you will suffer for it.
Omission of the before home, before church, hospital, prison, school etc. and before work, sea and town.
When home is used alone, i.e. is not preceded or followed by a descriptive word or phrase, the is omitted:
He is at home.
Home used alone can be placed directly after a verb of motion or verb of motion + object, i.e. it can be treated as an adverb:
|He went home.||I arrived home after dark.||I sent him home.|
But when home is preceded or followed by a descriptive word or phrase it is treated like any other noun:
They went to their new home.
We arrived at the bride’s home.
For some years this was the home of your queen.
A mud hut was the only home he had ever known.
- Bed, church, court, hospital, prison, school/college/university.
The is not used before the nouns listed above when these places are visited or used for their primary purpose. We go:
|To bed to sleep or as invalids||To hospital as patients|
|To church to pray||To prison as prisoners|
|To court as litigants etc.||To school/college/university to study|
Similarly we can be:
|In bed, sleeping or resting||In ospital as patients|
|At church as worshippers||At school etc. as students|
|In court as witnessesetc.|
We can be/get back (or be/get home) from school/college/university.
We can leave school, leave hospital, be released from prison.
When these places are visited or used for other reasons the is necessary:
I went to the church to see the stained glass.
He goes to the prison sometimes to give lectures.
We go to sea as sailors. To be at sea = to be on a voyage (as passengers or crew). But to go to or be at the sea = to go to or be at the seaside. We can also live by/near the sea.
- Work and office.
Work (= place of work) is used without the:
He’s on his way to work. He is at work.
He isn’t back from work yet.
Note that at work can also mean ‘working’; hard at work = working hard:
He’s hard at work on a new picture.
Office (= place of work) needs the: He is at/in the office.
To be in office (without the) means to hold an official (usually political) position. To be out of office = to be no longer in power.
The can be omitted when speaking of the subject’s or speaker’s own town:
We go to town sometimes to buy clothes.
We were in town last Monday.