Types of Articles & Rules for Use

Articles are prenominal modifiers (they occur before nouns in order to modify them). They are also known as determiners.

Articles

Articles are prenominal modifiers (they occur before nouns in order to modify them). They are also known as
determiners.

Types of Articles

There are two types of articles in English- definite (the) and indefinite (a, an). Here, the terms ‘definite’ or
‘indefinite’ is associated with the NOUN that precedes the articles, not the articles themselves.

Indefinite (a, an):

The indefinite articles are used before singular countable nouns only. We use them to replace number one.

Indefinite implies that the NOUN that precedes is unspecific. Furthermore, the noun has no
specific value. It is identifiable in general only. The speaker uses nouns followed by these articles when the
noun needs no specific identity.

Example (1) Provide me an umbrella. (Here, the speaker wants an umbrella irrespective of color and size. And
the listener is also unrestricted to bring any of the umbrellas he possesses.

 The indefinite articles can appear before singular count nouns. (sometimes, SOME also works as the indefinite article

Definite (the):

Definite implies that the noun is specifically identifiable to both speaker and listener. It means to
say both of them know or identify the noun that follows it.

Example(1):

Can you bring the glass? (situation: a man is planning to have whiskey. He has already got a bottle
of whiskey but he forgot to bring a glass. Now he is requesting someone who knows the condition to bring the
glass which is particularly used to drink whiskey. The listener presumes that the speaker needs a specific glass for
having whiskey)

Example(2)

Can you bring a glass? (situation: here the listener doesn’t know the actual condition of the speaker.
The listener presumes that any kind of glasswork. So he/she may bring any kind of glass)
In the first example, both the listener and the speaker know the situation so that both of them identify the noun
i.e. GLASS.

Conversely, in the second example, the listener doesn’t know the situation in which the speaker is. So, the noun
GLASS is indefinite.

THE

  1. The definite article THE may appear before both count nouns (singular –plural) or noncount nouns.
  2. It normally doesn’t occur before people’s names.
  3. Second Mention; It is used when we want to refer to something that has already been mentioned. Eg. I
    have a garden. The garden is full of orange trees.
  4. It is used to refer to something that is present or visible in the immediate environment. Eg. Pass me the
    book, please. Open the window.
  5. It is used when both the listener and the speaker share common knowledge about something. Eg. Call
    him to the ground. (both of them know which ground)
  6. It is used in relative clauses.
  7. The nouns preceded by a superlative form of an adjective usually take the definite article.
  8. Before ordinal numbers; first, second, next, last THE is used.
  9. Geographical names; Countries with unions and federations- the UK, the UAE, the USA etc.
  10. Mountain ranges- the Himalayas, the Alps, (name of the single mountain begins with MOUNT and Zero
    article; Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro
  11. Islands- the Philippines, the Solomon Islands
  12. Oceans, seas, and gulfs- the Atlantic, the Caspian Sea, the Gulf of Guinea ( bays take no article except
    the Bay of Bengal)
  13. Straits- the Bering Strait
  14. Deserts, plains, plateaus, and Peninsulas- the Govi, the Sahara,
  15. Rivers and canals-
  16. Celestial body- the sun. the earth (but other planets than earth take zero articles Venus, Mercury )
  17. Names of newspapers
  18.  Names of governmental bodies- the department of commerce, the FBI, the CIA, the president, the prime
    minister
  19. Musical instruments in the sense of playing, learning, teaching. He is playing the madal. But not as we
    talk about possession of objects. Do you ha+ve a flute? I will buy a piano.
  20. Directions- the east, the west
  21. Daybreaks- in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, (but at night)
  22. Period of decades- the thirties, the sixties
  23. Family name and casts- the Bramins, the Gurungs, the Ranas
  24. Holy books- the Koran, the bible, the Ramayan
  25. Political parties- the CPN-UML, the RPP, the Republican
  26. Nationality/religion/race/ adjectives- the Chinese, the Nepalese, the Hindus, the black
  27. Social groups/ class- the poor, the blind, the old, the unemployed
  28. Famous hotel restaurant
  29. Scientific inventions – the radio, the computer
  30. Historic events- the martyr’s day, the independence day

Zero Articles (Ø)

  1. The uncountable and plural noun in general- Gold is a precious metal. Milk is white. Tigers are dangerous.
  2. Festivals- Happy Holi.
  3. Seasons and day- flowers bloom in Spring. Saturday is the holiday.
  4. Proper nouns
  5. Abstract nouns in general- wisdom, honesty, death, beauty, popularity
  6. Languages- I am learning English.
  7. School, college, church, temple, bed, hospital, market, home, prison, etc. when they are used for their
    primary(nonspecific) purpose.
  8. Diseases, games, colors, and possessive pronouns- She died of cancer. Football is a game. His bag is
    black. This is my book.

Rules of Using Articles with Examples

Definite article or Indefinite article, each of the articles has different uses in different situations.

Using Indefinite Article: a & an

Rule 1:

A common noun in the singular number always requires an article before it. But a plural common noun does not require an article always. A plural common noun can have the article ‘the’ if we want to particularise that noun.

Example:

  • I saw a snake. (Refers to a random snake)
  • I saw snakes in a zoo. (No article is required)
  • I have seen the snake again. (Refers to the snake I have already seen earlier)
  • I have seen the snakes again before leaving the zoo. (Refers to the particular snakes of the zoo which I saw earlier.)

Rule 2:

The choice between the two indefinite articles – a & an – is determined by sound. Words beginning with consonant sounds precede ‘a’ and words beginning with vowel sounds precede ‘an’. There are some special cases also. For instance,

  • a university, a union, a useful book, etc.
  • a one-dollar note, a one-man army, etc.
  • an MA, a BA, an LLB, a BSC, etc.

Rule 3:

A or an – sometimes makes a Proper Noun a Common Noun. Proper nouns generally do not take any articles, but when a proper noun needs to be used as a common noun, you must bring a or an – for it.  

Example: 

  • He thinks he is a Shakespeare. (Here, ‘Shakespeare’ does not refer to the actual person but someone like him.)
  • He seems to be an Australian. (‘Australia’ is a proper noun but ‘Australian’ is a common noun because there is only one Australia but a million of Australians.)

Rule 4:

Sometimes indefinite articles are used to refer the number ‘one’/’each’/’per’.

Example:

  • I earned a thousand dollar in that job. (One thousand dollar)
  • I have a car. (One car)
  • It goes 50 miles an hour. (Per Hour)

Rule 5:

Indefinite articles often precede descriptive adjectives.

Example:

  • He is a good boy.
  • What a nice car!

Rule 6:

‘A’ sometimes comes before determiners, for example,  a few, a little, a lot of, a most, etc. but in the case of many, a or an – comes after.

Example:

  • I have a few friends coming over.
  • There is a little milk in the jar.
  • Many a fan welcomed

Using Definite Article: the

Rule 1:

‘The’ is used to indicate a particular person(s) or thing(s) in the case of common nouns. Proper nouns generally do not take an article.

Example:

  • The man is running. (A particular man)
  • I saw the boy stealing.
  • Where is the pen I gave you last year?
  • I gave him a ball, but he lost the ball. (‘a ball’ became ‘the ball’ in the second clause because that ball was not a random ball anymore.)

Rule 2:

Sometimes ‘the’ is used to generalize a group/whole class.

Example:

  • The dog is a faithful animal. (Refers to the whole species of dog.)
  • The English are industrious. (Refers to the people of England as a nation)
  • The honest are respected. (The+adjectives = plural noun)
  • The poor are not always dishonest. (The+adjectives = plural noun)

Rule 3:

To particularise a non-count noun ‘the’ is required before it.

Example:

  • The water of the Arctic ocean is freezing.
  • Please return the money I lent you last year.

Rule 4:

‘The’ is mandatory before a thing that is only one of a kind in the universe.

Example:

  • The moon is shining tonight.
  • The earth is moving around the sun.

Use of ‘the’ before geographical places :

Rule 5:

Using ‘the’ with geographical nouns generally depends on the size and plurality of the things those nouns refer to. ‘The’ is generally used everywhere except in some cases. So, it’s better to know those exceptions first.

‘The’ must not precede:

  • Names of continents: Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, North America, Antarctica.
  • Names of countries: Australia, Bolivia, England, France, Spain, etc.
  • Names of states, cities, or towns: Los Angeles, Alaska, Sydney, London,
  • Names of streets: George street, Albion Street, New town street,
  • Names of singular lakes and bays: Lake Carey, Lake Eyre, Lake Hillier, Shark Bay,
  • Names of single mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Solitary, Mount Bindo, Mount Fuji, etc.
  • Names of single islands: Easter Island, Bare Island, Bird Island, Fatima Island,
  • Names of languages: Spanish, Russian, English,  (When ‘the’ precedes these nouns, they refer to the population of those languages.)
  • Names of sports: cricket, football, basketball,
  • Names of discipline/subject of studies: biology, history, computer science, mathematics,  

Note:

‘The’ is a widely used article in English. Except for the list mentioned above and proper nouns, ‘the’ is used before almost all the nouns which mean something definite/particular. The above list has some opposite factors also. Those factors are explained in the following list:     

The’ must precede:

  • Names of oceans, gulfs, seas, and rivers: the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Coral Sea, the Timor Sea, the Persian Gulf,the Nile, the Murray River, the Darling River, etc.
  • Names of countries with the united states or islands: the United States of America (the USA), the UK, the UAE, the Philippines, etc.
  • Names of great lakes: the Great Lakes, the African Great Lakes
  • Names of mountain ranges: the Himalayas, the Alps, the Andes, etc.
  • Names of a group of Islands: the West Indies, the Andamans, etc.

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