ARTICLES - one of the most hated things for English learners

ARTICLES - one of the most hated things for English learners

10. 8. 2018

Articles can be one of the most difficult things in English grammar for foreign language learners.  They are so simple and come naturally to native speakers but can often be a nightmare for people trying to learn English.  Some good advice about trying to learn when to use them is to pay attention to where they are used while reading and also while watching movies and/or listening to people talk.  Movies are easier because you can put on the subtitles and actually see, as well as hear, them.

English grammar - A/An - indefinite article

Let's start with the basics of a/an and the.  "A/an" are used when first introducing something.  For example, "I saw a car."  This car is new to us, so we don't know anything about it.  After it's been introduced to us, we can start using "the" to talk about it.  "The car was red."  We know that the car is still the same car because it is referred to as "the car," not "a car."

Another use for "a/an" is when referring to one of many things.  A good example of this is "a slice of bread."  There are many slices of bread in a loaf, but we are just talking about one.  "I was hungry so I cut a slice of bread and ate it."

"My daughter really wants a cat for her birthday." This refers to any cat. We don't know which cat because we haven't found the cat yet.

When to use a or an

When to use a or an depends on the sound that begins the next word.

  • a + singular noun beginning with a consonant: a boat; a car; a dog;
  • an + singular noun beginning with a vowel: an elephant; an egg; an ant; an ice cube.
  • a + singular noun beginning with a consonant sound: a user (sounds like 'yoo-zer,' i.e. begins with a consonant 'y' sound, so 'a' is used); a university; a unicycle
  • an + nouns starting with silent "h": an hour
  • English grammar - The - definite article

    This brings us to "the."  "The" is basically used in two different ways.  Firstly, it's used when you already know about something, such as "the car" mentioned above.

    The next way it's used is if there is only one of whatever we are talking about, or a main one.  A good example of this is your dog.  If your family has one dog, then it is "the dog."  When you talk about "the dog," everyone will know you are talking about your family's dog.  Here are some more examples:

  • a dog - an unknown dog
  • the dog - our family's dog
  • a car - an unknown car
  • the car - our car, or a car we've mentioned before
  • a book - an unknown book
  • the book - a book that we are currently talking about and that is known to everyone involved in the conversation
  • a computer - an unknown computer
  • the computer - whichever main computer everyone knows about, such as the family computer
  • Now here are a few more usage sentences to help you out:

  • "My dad turned on the TV." - it is presumed that there is only one TV in the room, so that's the one your dad turned on
  • "A strange car kept driving by our house last night." - because we didn't know any information about this car before now, it was referred to as "a" car.  From now on it can be referred to as "the (strange) car."
  • "The planet hasn't had people on it for very long." - it is presumed that we are talking about our planet, planet Earth, because as of now, our planet is the only one with people/life on it.
  • "I picked an apple from the tree and ate it." - there are probably many apples on the tree, but you just picked one.
  • "We are going to the lake tomorrow afternoon." - it is assumed that you normally go to a certain lake, so it can be referred to as "the lake"