What is an article? Basically, an article is an adjective. Like adjectives, articles modify nouns.
English has two articles: the and a/an. The is used to refer to specific or particular nouns; a/an is used to modify non-specific or non-particular nouns. We call the the definite article and a/an the indefinite article.
the = definite article
a/an = indefinite article
Use a when the next word starts with a consonant, or before words starting in u and eu when they sound like you. Use an when the next word starts with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u) or with a mute h.
a big elephant
an itchy sweater
an ugly duck
The definite article the is used to talk about a particular person or thing.
The book you want is out of print. (Which book? The one you want.)
The definite article the is also used to talk about a person or thing that has already been referred to.
- I saw a girl in the park. The girl was crying. (Which girl? The one I saw in the park.)
Before a singular noun meant to represent the whole class
When a singular noun is meant to represent a whole class to which it belongs, it is used with the definite article the.
- The cow is a useful animal. (Here the singular noun cow represents a whole class.)
- (Cows are useful animals.)
Before superlative adjectives
The definite article the is used before superlative adjectives.
- She is the best person I have seen.
Before ordinal numbers
- Who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize?
- The first half of the film is more interesting than the second half.
Before musical instruments
As an adverb with comparatives
- The more the merrier.
- The more they get, the more they want.
- The higher you climb, the cooler it gets.
*A” and “an” introduce a noun that has a quantity of one. In this case, “a” means the same thing as “one.” If the quantity of an object is greater than one, neither “a” nor “an” is used.
*Neither “the” nor “a” is used when referring to “proper nouns,” such as names of people, places or things (one exception is “The Netherlands”).
“Texas is my favorite American city.” (“Texas” is a proper noun.)
Articles are also not used with “generic nouns” or with “mass nouns.” Mass nouns are usually things composed of smaller things, such as some kind of food (a single piece of rice, for example, is “a grain of rice,” not “a rice”):
If the noun is modified by an adjective, the choice between a and an depends on the initial sound of the adjective that immediately follows the article:
- a broken egg
- an unusual problem
- a European country (sounds like 'yer-o-pi-an,' i.e. begins with consonant 'y' sound)
“Firemen are very brave.” (“Firemen” is generic because it refers to all firemen, not any specific one.)
“Farmers grow rice” (“Wheat, corn, rice,” etc. are mass nouns.)
PREVIOUS MENTION can also determine what kind of article a noun will take. The use of “a” or “an” implies that the noun is being mentioned for the first time. Once the noun has been mentioned, however, it is referred to with “the.” Note how “a” and “the” are used in the following sentences:
There was a cat [first mention] stuck in a tree [first mention]. The cat [second mention] was rescued by a policeman [first mention]. The policeman [second mention] fell out of the tree [second mention] and broke his leg.
- Bills a doctor.
- Johan is an Englishman.
Use a to refer to an example of something.
Use a with singular nouns after the words 'what' and 'such'.
- What a shame !
- She's such a beautiful girl .
- What a lovely day !