An article is a word used to modify a noun, which is a person, place, object, or idea.
There are two articles in English: the definite article and the indefinite article.
The indefinite article has two forms: a and an. The form a is used befire words beginning with a consonant: a pen, a doctor, a ruler, a table. The form an is used before words beginning with a vowel: an idea, an elephant, an owl, an apple.
The indefinite article originated from the Old English numeral an (one). As a result of its origin it is used only with countable nouns in the singular.
We use the indefinite article a / an:
- with singular countable nouns when we mention something for the first time, talk about something unknown or without any details: I watched a car as it came up our road. The car stopped and a man got out. The man was carrying a case.
- when we talk about people or things “in general”: A cat is a domestic animal. (= cats in general). A baker bakes bread. (Bakers in general)
- usually after the verbs to be and to have/ to have got: She has got a big flat. His sister is a journalist.
- to mean one: Can I have a piece of cake?
- in expressions what a …! such a …!: This is such a good idea! What a fantastic view!
- when we want to describe people nationality, religion, politics: She’s an American. She’s an Anglican. He’s a Conservative.
- in front of proper nouns for members of a family, literature and art: He’s a Forsyte. It’s a Dickens novel.
- to mean “any one”: I’d like a coffee. I had to stay in bed for a day. (any day)But: we use one when we are counting: It was one coffee I ordered and not two. I had to stay in bed for one day. (=one day)
- with whole numbers, fractions, weighs, measures: a/one hundred, a/one quarter, a/one kilo;
- with price/weight: 80p a kilo;
- with distance/ fuel: 30 miles a gallon (or to the gallon);
- with frequency/ time: twice a day;
- with illnesses: a cold, a headache, a sore throat; we can use or omit a/an with: catch a cold, have a headache/ backache.
The definite article has one graphic form the which is pronounced differently.
The definite article originated from the demonstrative pronoun that. It is used with nouns both in the singular and plural. It refers directly to a specific noun or groups of nouns: the freckles on my face, the crocodile in the pond, the milk in the glass.
We use the definite article the:
- before singular and plural nouns, both countable and uncountable when the noun is mentioned not for the first time: This a bike. The bike is black.
- when we can make a reference definite by means of the + noun + of, a clause (the part of a sentence), context: The life of Napoleon was very stormy. The Jones I’m referring to is a colleague of mine. The book you have taken is mine. It’s the postman. (not “a postman”)
- before the superlative of adjectives: The fact is the most interesting.
- before ordinal numerals: He was the second person who entered the room. Today is the fifth of June.
- before names of musical instruments with the verb to play: She can play the violin and the flute.
- before the words east, west, south, north: Our town is to the south of Kyiv.
- before the words cinema, country(side), seaside, theatre, shop, market, supermarket, bank, beach, police, (even we don’t know exactly which): They have just returned from the cinema. He’s gone to the theatre.
- to refer to “one of a kind”: the earth, the sea, the sky, the sun, the moon, the solar system, the planets, the universe: The earth doesn’t belong to us.
- nouns which are unique: They visited the Acropolis last summer.
- names of countries in plural or which have the words republic, union and kingdom: the United States of America, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic;
- before the names of rivers, seas, oceans, deserts, groups of islands, mountain ranges, canals, channels, gulfs, straits, bays: the Dnipro, the Thames, the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, the Great Victoria Desert, the Hebrides, the Rocky Mountains, the English Channel, the Gulf of Mexico, the Strait of Dover the Sahara, the Gobi;
- before the names of picture houses, hotels, theatres, museums, newspapers, ships: the Kinopalats, the Devon Hotel, the Globe, the Prado, the British Museum, the Washington Post, the Times, the Titanic;
- before the names of people/ families/ nationalities in the plural: the Whites, the French;
- before the names of organizations, documents, public bodies, titles of books and films, climate, historical events, political parties, beliefs, the whole species: the United Nations Organization, the Constitution, the police, the Government, “The Odyssey”, the weather, the French Revolution, the Conservative Party, the gods, the dinosaurs;
- before the titles without proper names: the King, the Queen, the President.
We use the zero article:
- to describe something general or uncountable: Children like sweets. (= All children). Cats don’t like cold weather. (= All cats) Knowledge is power. Life is short.
- in front of names and surnames: John, Mrs. Daniel, Mike’s aunt;
- before the nouns – kinds of sport and colours: Boys enjoy playing football. My favourite colour is green.
- before the words: breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, tea: Dinner is served. He’s at lunch. Let’s have breakfast. Time for tea. But: That was a very nice dinner.
- in front of nouns like school and hospital in phrases like: to school, at school, in hospital when we are referring to their normal purpose: Jane’s gone to school. Jane’s at school (to learn). John’s in hospital (he is ill). Other nouns like these are: bed, church, class, college, prison, sea, town, university, work.But: we use the or a/an with these nouns when we are not referring to their purpose: Jane’s gone to the school for a meeting. There’s a meeting at the school.
- before days of the week and months: School starts in September. My favourite day is Friday.
- before cardinal numbers, possessive and demonstrative pronouns: Can you see that building? She has got two cats. This is his phone.
- when we refer to parts of the day and night: at dawn/daybreak, at sunrise, at sunset/noon /night, by day/ night, at/by/before/till/after 4 o’clock: We left at dawn. But: I got up early to admire the dawn.
- before Nurse and Sister as forms of address for nurses;
- before Uncle and Auntie (but not “cousin’ or “sister”) to address our relations;
- before Major and Professor (we can use these words with names or on their own);
- before names of countries, states, cities, towns, villages, streets, parks, buildings: Turkey, France, London, Paris, Kaniv, Lipliavo, Ohio, Michigan, Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey;
- before names of lakes, single islands, mountain peaks, continents, geographical areas: Lake Baikal, Lake Ontario, Malta, Cyprus, Everest, Hoverla, Africa, South Africa;
- before titles with proper names: King Albert, President Washington;
- before names of languages: He speaks German and Italian.
- before names of universities (Oxford University), schools (Didcot Junior School), palaces (Buckingham Palace), castles (Windsor Castle), cathedrals and churches ( Paul’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s Church), stations (Waterloo Station), airports (Orly Airport, Heathrow Airport);
- when we treat words as proper nouns (names of organizations, titles of books and films, beliefs, the press, the whole species): Congress, Parliament, “Jaws”, God, Buddha, “Punch”, Time magazine,
- before these illnesses: measles, mumps, shingles, (high) blood pressure, flu.
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