Determiners - Lesson #10

Articles are one of the hardest things for English learners to master. Articles are special adjectives that we put before a noun.

There are three articles: a, an, the.

First, let's talk about the indefinite articles – a, an.

"A" and "an" have the same meaning as "one". We use "a" and "an" before singular count nouns when we are not talking about a specific or special thing.

For example, if there are 5 pens on the table – a red pen, a green pen, a blue pen, a yellow pen, and a black pen. I want you to give me one pen, but it doesn't matter which one. Then, I would use "a".
  • Please give me a pen. = Please give me one pen.
Because I used "a", I am saying that I am not talking about a specific pen. Any pen in that group would be okay.

"A" and "an" are the same, but we use them before different words.

Use "an" before singular nouns that start with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u). Look at these examples and pay attention to the first letter of the noun.

an orangean ice cream conean iglooan iguana
an umbrellaan applean elephantan axe

Use "a" before singular nouns that start with a consonant (all letters that are not vowels). Look at these examples and pay attention to the first letter of the noun.

a liona cakea doga ball
a TVa computera pena cup of coffee

There are a few exceptions. These exceptions are because of the sound of the noun. For example, the "h" in hour is silent, so it sounds like it "our". Therefore, we use "an".

an houra universitya unicorn

There is one more important thing to remember. If we use an adjective before a noun, then the article goes before the adjective and the article changes depending on the first letter of the adjective.
  • I have a red apple.
  • He is a big boy.
  • There is an awesome movie on TV.
  • She has a cool bag.
  • We have an unbelievable and cool idea.
Point to remember: "A" and "an" are the same as "one", so they can only be used with singular count nouns. We cannot use them with plural nouns or non-count nouns.
  • There is a snow.
  • I have a five apples.
  • She has an oranges.
Now, let's talk about the definite article – the.

We use "the" when we are talking about a specific or special thing or things. We can use "the" before all nouns – singular count nouns, plural count nouns, and non-count nouns.

For example, if there are 5 pens on the table – a red pen, a green pen, a blue pen, a yellow pen, and a black pen. I want you to give me the red pen. I do not want the other pens. I only want the red one. Then, I must use "the" to express this.
  • Please give me the red pen.
We can also do this for plural nouns or non-count nouns.
  • Did you see the horses?
In this example, I am talking about specific or particular horses.
  • She took the car.
In this example, both the listener and speaker know what car is being talked about.

Here are a few more examples.
  • Can you turn on the lights?
    (=the lights in this room)

  • I have to go to the hospital.
    (I am thinking of a specific hospital)

  • I'll have the salad.
    (I am talking about the specific salad on the menu)
Sometimes, we can use "a/an" or "the". It depends on the situation. Compare these sentences.

Compare these sentences.
  • I need to go to the bank. (talking about a specific bank)
  • Is there a bank near here? (not thinking of any specific bank)

  • She ate the cookie. (a special and particular cookie)
  • She ate a cookie. (not a special or specific cookie)

  • I saw the woman who you were looking for.
  • I saw a woman.
Here are a few rules to follow when using "the".

1. Use "the" when there is only one of something.
  • The sun is hot.
  • Did you see how beautiful the sky looks today?
  • The Earth goes around the sun. The moon goes around the Earth.
  • It is on the ground.
  • The Amazon River is huge.
2. Use "the" before the following words.

the seathe oceanthe environment
the countrythe skythe ground

Note: Here "country" means countryside; not a country like Germany, France, or Korea.
  • I want to see the sea.
  • The ocean always amazes her.
  • We need to protect the environment.
3. Use "the" before the word "same".
  • We have the same bike.
  • It looks the same.
  • They have the same name.
4. We use "the" before specific time periods.
  • What will happen in the future?
  • People slept in caves during the Stone Age.
  • My father grew up in the 1960s.
5. We use "the" before specific groups of people.
  • The students at this school don't like to study.
  • The young like technology.
  • The old prefer to live quiet lives.
  • The workers at the factory are unhappy
6. Sometimes, we use "the" before geographical places or famous places.
  • The Eiffel Tower is amazing.
  • The North Pole is cold.
  • The Nile River is long.
  • The Atlantic Ocean is smaller than the Pacific Ocean.
However, sometimes we do not. For example, we do not use "the" before "Mount" (Mt.).
  • The Mount Everest is big.
7. We do not use "the" before most countries and cities.
  • The Canada is beautiful.
  • The Sydney is fun.
However, we do use "the" before countries that have a plural name or countries that have "republic", "states", or "kingdom" in the name.
  • The United States of America is a big country.
  • The United Kingdom is a great place to visit.
  • The Philippines is a beautiful country.
Knowing when to use articles can be very hard for English learners. Practice and study them, but do not worry about them too much. If you use the wrong article or if you forget to use an article, the listener can usually still understand the meaning of your sentence.