What are articles?
Articles are words that identify a noun as being specific or unspecific. Consider the following examples:
By using the article the, we’ve shown that it was one specific day that was long and one specific cup of tea that tasted good.
By using the article a, we’ve created a general statement, implying that any cup of tea would taste good after any long day.
English has two types of articles: definite and indefinite. Let’s discuss them now in more detail.
The definite article
The definite article is the word the. It limits the meaning of a noun to one particular thing. For example, your friend might ask, “Are you going to the party this weekend?” The definite article tells you that your friend is referring to a specific party that both of you already know about. The definite article can be used with singular, plural, or uncountable nouns. Below are some examples of the definite article, the, used in context:
The indefinite article
The indefinite article takes two forms. It’s the word a when it precedes a word that begins with a consonant. It’s the word an when it precedes a word that begins with a vowel. The indefinite article indicates that a noun refers to a general idea or category of a thing rather than a specific thing.
For example, you might ask your friend, “Should I bring a gift to the party?” Your friend will understand that you are not asking about a specific type of gift or a specific item. “I am going to bring an apple pie,” your friend tells you. Again, the indefinite article indicates that she is not talking about a particular apple pie. Your friend probably doesn’t even have any pie yet. The indefinite article appears only with singular nouns. Consider the following examples of indefinite articles used in context:
Exceptions: using a or an
There are a few exceptions to the general rule of using a before words that start with consonants and an before words that begin with vowels. The first letter of the word honor, for example, is a consonant, but it’s unpronounced. Despite its spelling, the word honor begins with a vowel sound. Therefore, we use an. Consider the example sentence below for an illustration of this concept.
Similarly, when the first letter of a word is a vowel but is pronounced with a consonant sound, use a, as in the sample sentence below:
This holds true for acronyms and initialisms too: an LCD display, a UK-based company, an HR department, a URL.
An article before an adjective
Sometimes an article modifies a noun that is also modified by an adjective. The usual word order is article + adjective + noun. If the article is indefinite, use a or an based on the word that immediately follows it. Consider the following examples for reference:
Indefinite articles with uncountable nouns
Uncountable nouns are nouns that are impossible to count, whether because they name intangible concepts (e.g., information, animal husbandry, wealth), collections of things that are considered as wholes (e.g., jewelry, equipment, the working class), or homogeneous physical substances(e.g., milk, sand, air). Although most of these nouns are singular in form, because they refer to things that can’t be isolated and counted, they never take a or an. Uncountable nouns can be modified by indefinite adjectives like some, however. Consider the examples below for reference:
Water is an uncountable noun and should not be used with the indefinite article.
If you describe the water in terms of a countable unit (like a bottle), you can use the indefinite article to modify the unit.
Note that depending on the context, some nouns can be countable or uncountable (e.g., hair, noise, time):
Using articles with pronouns
Possessive pronouns—words like his, my, our, its, her, and their—can help identify whether you’re talking about specific or nonspecific items. As we’ve seen, articles also indicate specificity. But if you use both a possessive pronoun and an article together, readers will become confused. Articles should not be used with pronouns. Consider the examples below:
The and my should not be used together, as they are both identifying the same noun. Instead, choose one or the other depending on the intended meaning:
Omission of articles
Occasionally, articles are omitted altogether before certain nouns. In these cases, the article is implied but not actually present. This implied article is sometimes called a “zero article.” Often, the article is omitted before a noun that refers to an abstract idea. Look at the following examples:
Tip: The words for many languages and nationalities are not preceded by an article.
Tip: Sports and academic subjects do not require articles.
What is an article?
An article is a word that comes before a noun to show whether it’s specific or general. Specific nouns use the article the and general nouns use the article a (or an, if the next word starts with a vowel sound).
What are definite and indefinite articles?
The definite article refers to something specific, and the indefinite article refers to something general. The is the definite article and a/an is the indefinite article.
What is an example of an article in grammar?
“The hammer” refers to only one hammer, but “a hammer” refers to any hammer.
When should we not use articles?
We don’t use the indefinite article with uncountable nouns, or any article with a possessive pronoun. Certain nouns such as nationalities, school subjects, and sports often don’t take articles, especially when they refer to general or abstract ideas.