The articles in English are "a," "an," and "the." The first
two (a, an) are called "indefinite articles" because they
refer to general things instead of particular things. For
example, in the sentence "Shall we go to see a movie?"
the indefinite article lets us know that the speaker is not
referring to a particular movie.
However, "the" is a definite article and always refers to a
specific thing. For example, if you changed the above
sentence to read, "Shall we go to see the movie my brother
told me yesterday?" the speaker is referring to one specific
Here are the categories of nouns and the general rules about
Proper Nouns (names of people, places, religions, languages, etc)
either use no article or "the." Usually, if the proper noun is
singular, do not use an article, and if the proper noun is plural,
use the definite article "the."
He is going to take a winter vacation in the Europe.
Don't send that email to the Mr. Smith yet.
We invited Canadians in our dorm to join us for Thansgiving
He is going to take a vacation in the United States.
Don't send that email to Mr. Smith yet.
We invited the Canadians in our dorm to join us for Thanksgiving
Using "the" with Proper Nouns
Use "the" with the names of certain countries: the Far East, the
Middle East, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the
United States, the Netherlands, the Sudan, the Soviet Union,
the People's Republic of China
Use "the" with the names of geographical locations
the Panama Canal, the Sahara Desert, the Nile River, the Pacific
Ocean, the Grand Canyon
Use "the" with plural mountains, lakes and islands
the Hawaiian Islands, the Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains
(but not Lake Superior or Mount Everest)
With common nouns (which include every other kind of noun
besides proper nouns) article use depends on whether the
noun is countable or not countable. If the noun stands for
something that can be counted, it needs an article if it is
singular. If it is plural, it either uses no article or the
efinite article "the."
Examples (Countable, Singular):
Would you like apple with your ice cream?
Let's take dog inside.
Would you like an apple with your ice cream?
Please hand me the apple closest to you.
Let's take the dog inside.
My daughter wants a cat for her birthday.
Examples (Countable, Plural):
The dogs are a person's best friend (not a specific dog).
Police officers wearing uniform are coming
Dogs are a person's best friend.
The police officers wearing uniform are coming.
If a noun stands for something that cannot be counted, it
either takes "the" or no article. Mass nouns never take "a"
or "an." Also, most non-countable nouns do not have plural
forms (for example, there is no such form as "wisdoms," or
"chemistries"). A few non-countable nouns end in "s" but
are actually singular nouns (such as "civics," measles,"
"news," "tennis," and "politics").
Non-countable nouns fall into several categories:
Abstractions: laughter, information, beauty, love, work,
Fields of activity or study: law, football, biology, research,
Natural phenomena: weather, rain, sunshine, snow
Whole groups of objects: sand, rice, flour, furniture
Liquids, fluids, gases, and minerals: water, air, gasoline,
coffee, lead, iron, wood
Wholes made up of smaller parts: cash, clothing, jewelry,
Diseases or medical procedures: cancer, stroke, diabetes
Examples (Non countable):
Our Constitution guarantees us the happiness.
Nothing is more satisfying than receiving love of children.
Our Constitution guarantees us happiness (general happiness).
Nothing is more satisfying than receiving the love of children
(specific kind of love).
When to use "a," "an," or "the":
Use "a" or "an" for nonspecific, singular, count nouns (nouns
that do not refer to a particular thing).
You can't take the exam without a pencil.
It will take an hour to drive to Greensboro.
Use "the" for specific singular nouns (nouns that refer to a
I can't take the exam without the lucky pencil you gave me.
You must show up at the hour we agreed upon.
Plural and mass nouns do not usually require an article.
Magic tricks never fool me.
Cereal is my favorite breakfast food.
Plural and mass nouns followed by a modifier require "the".
The magic tricks of David Copperfield never fool me.
The cereal on the top shelf is getting stale.
Here are some other specific occasions where one would use
To show that something or someone has already been spoken or
Example: Is this the movie you recommended?
To show that something or someone is already known to the
speaker or hearer.
Example: Please hand me the bottle.
Used with things, places, or people because they are well-known.
Example: When you get back from the store, bring me the change.
To show that something or someone is the only one of its kind.
Example: The sun went down at 6:00 p.m. last night.
To refer to parts of the body, parts of houses, and parts of
Example: He received a blow to the head while he was sitting in
the back of the car that ran into the side of the house.
Used to refer to all those of a stated kind.
Example: All the students in this class received passing grades.
To refer to a species of animal or plant.
Example: The zebra is not native to North America.
To show the relation between one thing and another.
Example: This car gets 38 miles to the gallon.
To show the relation between amounts of things (with a
comparative adjective such as "more" or "less"):
Example: The more news you read, the more you will know.
To compare using superlatives, such as "best" or "worst."
Example: My father's pizza is the best I've ever tasted.
Here are some more specific occasions when one would use "a"
To refer to any one of a number of possible things.
Example: I need a new book.
To refer to one part of a larger quantity.
Example: Can I have a bowl of cereal and a slice of pizza?
To specify information associated with each item of a grouping.
Example: This Chinese take-out food costs $5.00 a box.
With someone's name you have not met before.
Example: A Mrs. Smith stopped by to see you while you were out.
When a noun is introduced to the reader for the first time, use
"a." Then use "the" each subsequent reference to that noun.
Example: A man came into the store today. The man was tall.
In some cases, the rules for article use seem arbitrary and
For example, articles are needed with some abstract nouns but
not with others:
Appropriate: We must protect the environment.
Not appropriate: We must protect the nature.
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