Using articles: an overview of the rules
The most common grammar mistakes are also the ones that can be easily avoided. The information given in this article should be useful to anyone who wants to write English correctly.
Use of Indefinite / Definite Articles (the, a, an)
The correct use of the articles is one of the most difficult points in English grammar. Fortunately, most article mistakes aren’t serious. Nonetheless, learning the correct usage of articles is essential because they show your mastery over the language.
Here are the most important rules.
A singular countable noun always takes an article or another determiner with it. For example, we can say a dog, the dog, that dog or my dog, but not dog.
Use the indefinite article (a,an) when introducing a person or thing.
I saw a girl in the toy store.
Use the definite article (the) in subsequent references to that person or thing.
The girl was crying. (NOT A girl was crying.)
Use the indefinite article (a, an) to refer to a person or thing not known to the reader or the writer.
She is going out with a French guy.
Use the definite article to refer to a person or thing known to the reader and the writer.
I have been to the doctor. (In this case, both the listener and the speaker know the doctor in question.)
You must consult a doctor. (Any doctor)
Use no articles with uncountable or plural nouns to talk about things in general.
Computers are useful. (NOT The computers are useful.)
Life is beautiful. (NOT The life is beautiful.) (NOT (A life is beautiful.)
Sometimes we talk about things in general by using ‘the’ with a singular countable noun. This is common with the names of scientific and musical instruments.
Who is playing the piano?
Complete the following sentences.
1. …………………….. teacher must have patience. (a / the)
2. Who invented ……………………….. telephone? (a / the)
3. She is …………………… engineer. (an / the)
4. We hired ………………………. car to go to Scotland. (a / the)
1. A teacher must have patience.
2. Who invented the telephone?
3. She is an engineer.
4. We hired a car to go to Scotland.