Articles (a/an, the)


    1 Types of Articles

    Articles are short words that determine the meaning of a noun. Although they may be seen as insignificant, they have been created for easier communication and their misuse can really change the meaning of the message. If you are a beginner, it is likely that you will not be able to use the articles correctly, but do not worry, the listener will probably be able to figure out what you want to say from the context. Try to learn a few basic rules and keep them in mind. If you are already an advanced speaker, the use of the articles has a vital function in English. Take notice of the use of the articles when native speakers talk and you will start to understand how important the articles are in English.

    There are three types of articles:
    The definite article – THE
    • This is my pen. THE pen is black.
    The indefinite article – A/AN
    • “A” is associated with words whose spelling begins with a consonant (e.g., a book, a man)
    • “AN” is associated with words whose spelling begins with a vowel, so that the word is easier for the speaker to pronounce (e.g.: an apple, an orange). An is also used before words beginning with an H e.g., an hour – because although the word begins with the consonant H it is not pronounced. It is known as an aspirate H.

    Zero article
    • It has its own rules for use, see below
    • A zero article = no article

    2 Importance of Articles

    Articles change the meaning of the words used in a phrase. We will show their basic use with some example. What do you imagine when we say “book”? Everyone probably imagines a completely different book. If we add an indefinite article “a book”, we suggest to the listener that it is any book. If we use the definite article “the book”, we are referring to a particular book and the listener knows exactly which book we’re talking about (e.g., the book we talked about a moment ago or the only book on the table).

    Articles may appear unimportant, but their misuse changes the meaning of the message.

    I want to buy a book.

    I want to buy the book.

    3 Use of Articles

    The definite article – THE
    The definite article is placed before a noun that is specific, particular or accurate to us. It has two pronunciations: /d/ spoken with the tongue between the teeth – used before a pronounced consonant (the book, the house, the car) and /di:/ spoken again with the tongue between the teeth – used before a pronounced vowel (the hour, the actor, the apple).

    When do we use the definite article THE?

      • A known thing
        There’s an armchair in this room. The armchair is comfortable.
      • When something has been mentioned or discussed in the past
        Do you remember the man I spoke about last week?
      • One and only thing (unique)
        The Sun
        It is in the car.
      • What is known from a situation or a context
        Do you know where I left the bag? (the listener knows what bag I’m talking about).
      • Mountain ranges, rivers and states (only for states that are plural and, for some, compound names, from multiple words that are general – a republic, kingdom, etc.), rivers, deserts, etc. see chapter section on geographical names.
        The Himalayas, The Mississippi river, The United Kingdom, The Czech Republic
      • Superlative adjectives
        We always use the definite article
        He is the best student.
        This is the most interesting book I have ever read.


    The indefinite article A/AN
    The indefinite article is used before a noun that is general, unknown or unspecific to us.
    A is used in front of a word that begins with a consonant
    a book, a pen, a nice flower.
    AN is used in front of a word that begins with a vowel or an aspirate h.
    an orange, an egg, an old house.

    When do we use the indefinite article A/AN?

    • General
      I want to buy a laptop.
    • A new information.
      We have got a house.
    • We ask about a presence
      Is there an armchair in your room?
    • A feature
      Have you got a good job? – we ask about quality
    • Quantity “one”, frequency
      I’ve got a sister.
      a few, a lot of, half an hour, a little, a bit
    • Employment, general description – what we are
      She’s a doctor.
      Wendy is a girl.


    When do we use a zero article?
    There are some words where we do not use an article at all.

    • Uncountable nouns
      I don’t drink coffee.
      Water is wet.
    • Idioms and Phrases
      By car, by bus, by train
      at school/to school
      at work/to work
      listen to music
    • Talking about food and daily meals
      We have dinner at 6 every day.
    • About languages, study and science fields
      Chinese is too difficult for me.
    • Days, months, times, holidays, seasons
      On Sunday
      in June
      at 7 o´clock
      during summer holiday
      in winter
    • Cities and streets
      Rome is the capital of Italy.
      London, Prague, Paris, Madison street
    • There are exceptions where The is part of the city’s name e.g. The Hague
    • States that have a name from only one or two words, but the noun itself is not meaningful
      Austria, Slovakia, England, South Africa, New Zealand

    “I live in Czech Republic.”



    “No, you live in the Czech Republic.”

    4 Geographical Names

    Geographical names are clearly a topic for advanced students, since it is not easy to use the articles properly here. However, there are certain rules that you should try to remember. Each rule always has an exception, and there are several applicable to geographical names. Nonetheless we apply one rule: we always use either the definite or the zero article.

    • Continents
      The zero article: (Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia, America, Antarctica, Central Europe, North America…)
      An exception: in a linkage with the continent of… (the continent of America, the American continent)
    • States
      The zero article: one-word names in singular number (France, Germany, Spain, Italy)
      The definite article: plural and multi-word names (the Czech Republic, the USA, the United Kingdom – multi-word, the Netherlands – plural)
      The exception:  in the linkage with the republic/state of… (the Republic of Korea, the state of Massachusetts), New Zealand, New Mexico
    •  Cities
      The zero article: (Prague, London)
      The exception: in the linkage with the city/town of… (the city of New York) or towns where The is part of the official name e.g. The Hague
    • Water
      The definite article: the River Thames, the Southern Ocean, the Black Sea
      The exception: the names of lakes – Lake Michigan, Lake Geneva
    •  Mountains
      The definite article: mountains – the Alps
      The zero article: specific mountains – Mount Everest, Mount Cook
    •  Islands, archipelago
      The definite article: archipelagos – the Philippines, the Channel Islands
      Note: We take Indonesia, Japan, Hawaii, etc. as being one-word country names, so there is no article.
      The zero article: specific islands – Ireland, Sicily, Madagascar
    •  Deserts
      The definite article: the Sahara
    •  Squares, streets, classes, parks
      The zero article: Times Square, Gansevoort Street, Eleventh Avenue, Madison Avenue, Central Park
    •  Buildings
      The zero article: if the first word is its own name – City Hall, Buckingham Palace
      The definite article: : if the first word is a generic/adjective – the Statue of Liberty, the White House
    •  Universities
      The zero article: Oxford University, Yale University
      The exception: in the linkage with the university of… when this is the official name of the university e.g. (the University of Chicago)
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    Vendula Nedělová
    She completed her master's degree at the Faculty of Education, Charles University, specializing in English language, music culture, pedagogy, and social pedagogy. She has many years of experience in language teaching in the Czech Republic, USA, Indonesia and Germany. She works as a methodologist and coordinator of language courses in ONLINE learning, where she leads a team of lecturers and the creation of language courses for more than 137 000 students. Vendula follows the motto: “Learning should be fun, because if we enjoy what we do, then it makes sense”.