The number one rule is this: if a word is countable (e.g. one book, two books), you must always use an article (or my, his,etc.): I read a book. √ I read book. This is true even if there are adjectives before the noun: He drives an old car. √ He drives old car. Never use a or an with a word that is plural (e.g. books, trees) or uncountable (e.g. water, advice): I asked her for advice. √ I asked her for an advice. Note that we use a in front of words that start with a consonant sound (a horse, a carrot) and an in front of words with a vowel sound (an apple, an elephant). The next most important thing to understand is the difference between a/an and the. Basically, we use a/an when we don’t need to say which thing we are talking about. We use the to talk about a specific thing: I caught a train to London. (it doesn’t matter which train) The train was late. (that particular train was late) We often use a when we mention something for the first time, and then change to the when it is clear which thing we are talking about: He was talking to a man. The man was laughing. She gave him a present. The present was very expensive. We also use the when it is obvious which thing we are talking about or when there is only one of something: Could you shut the door, please? I cleaned the bathroom this morning. He travelled around the world. The sun is hot today. If you stick to the rules above, you will be correct in almost all cases. However, there are a few exceptions, and the following are the most useful ones to learn: We don’t use a/an before the names of meals: We had lunch at noon. We don’t use a/an before words like school, prison, or college when we are talking about them in a general way: I hope to go to college. He spent three years in prison. With the word ‘hospital’, there is a difference between British and American English: My brother’s in hospital (UK) / in the hospital (US). We use the before the names of shops or places where we go for services when they are the ones we usually go to: I need to go to the supermarket. She went to the doctor’s.The 3 articles in English are a, an and the. The learner has to decide noun-by-noun which one of the articles to use*. In fact, there are 4 choices to make, because sometimes no article is necessary. Native-speakers, of course, use the articles correctly without thinking in everyday spoken language. English learners, on the other hand, need to have some guidelines for making the right choice – particularly those learners whose own language does not have articles, such as Japanese or Korean. The guidelines that follow here should help ESL students to a basic understanding of English article use. The most important first step in choosing the correct article is to categorize the noun as count or uncount in its context**: – A count noun is a noun that can have a number in front of it: 1 teacher, 3 books, 76 trombones, 1,000,000 people. – An uncount noun is a noun that cannot have a number put in front of it: 1 water, 2 lucks, 10 airs, 21 oils, 39 informations. Once you have correctly categorized the noun (using your dictionary if necessary), the following “rules” apply: Uncount nouns
- You cannot say a/an with an uncount noun.
- You cannot put a number in front of an uncount noun. (You cannot make an uncount noun plural.)
- You use an uncount noun with no article if you mean that thing in general.
- You use the with an uncount noun when you are talking about a particular example of that thing.
- You can put a number in front of a count noun. (You can make a count noun plural.)
- You can put both a/an and the in front of a count noun.
- You must put an article in front of a singular count noun.
- You use a plural count noun with no article if you mean all or any of that thing.
- You usually use a/an with a count noun the first time you say or write that noun.
- You use the with count nouns:
- the second and subsequent times you use the noun in a piece of speech or writing
- when the listener knows what you are referring to (maybe because there is only one of that thing)
- You use an (not a) when the next word (adverb, adjective, noun) starts with a vowel sound.
- The above rules apply whether there is or there is not an adjective in front of the noun.
- Some nouns can be either count or uncount, depending on the context and meaning:
- Do you have paper? I want to draw a picture. (uncount = a sheet of paper)
- Can you get me a paper when youï¿½re at the shop? (count = a newspaper)
- Uncount nouns are often preceded by phrases such as: a lot of .. (luck), a piece of .. (cake), a bottle of .. (milk), a grain of .. (rice).
- , etc.
Following are some of the most important guidelines listed above, with example sentences:
|1. You use an uncount noun with no article if you mean all or any of that thing.||
|2. You use the with an uncount noun when you are talking about a particular example of that thing.||
|3. You usually use a/an with a count noun the first time you say or write that noun.||
|4. You use the with count nouns the second and subsequent times you use the noun, or when the listener already knows what you are referring to (maybe because there is only one of that thing).||
|5. You use a plural count noun with no article if you mean all or any of that thing.||
|6. The above rules apply whether there is or there is not an adjective in front of the noun.||