Articles a, an, and the are a challenge for many students. The basic rule is that a and an are used when indicating “one out of many” and are only used before countable nouns (nouns that can be made plural) such as a man or an animal.
They are also used for generalities: A weasel is an animal.
Note: The plural forms are also used for generalities (Weasels are animals.)
An is used before a vowel or a silent ‘h’, for example, an hour, but not before a pronounced ‘h’, for example, a hero. Watch out for words that begin with ‘u’. If they sound like a ‘y’, then use a, as in a university (you-ni-ver-si-ty). If “u” doesn’t sound like a ‘y‘, then use an, as in an uncle.
The, on the other hand, is used for specific things, things that are known by the speaker and the listener. For example, in “Please close the door.” the listener knows which door the speaker is talking about.
The is also used when the speaker indicates which thing he/she is talking about by using an adjective (The first time…), a prepositional phrase (The book on the top shelf…), or an adjective clause (The socks that I bought yesterday…).
The is used when there is only one of the thing, as in the moon, the beginning, or the President.
Finally, the is used when referring to general words that are all the same, such as the bathroom, the bus, the newspaper, the (tele)phone, the radio, the street, the government, the police, the fire department, and the army (navy, air force, marines)
It’s also used for musical instruments, such as the piano, the clarinet, the guitar.
Study this lesson, and when you’re ready, take the following quiz.
© 2013 Ambien Malecot