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Thread: A, An or The?

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    mko0004 Guest

    Cool A, An or The?

    How do I use A, An or The?

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    Barb_D's Avatar
    Barb_D is offline Moderator
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    hampeh is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: A, An or The?

    English has two articles: the and a/an. The is used to refer to specific or particular nouns; a/an is used to modify non-specific or non-particular nouns. We call the the definite article and a/an the indefinite article.


    the = definite article
    a/an = indefinite article


    For example, if I say, "Let's read the book," I mean a specific book. If I say, "Let's read a book," I mean any book rather than a specific book.
    Here's another way to explain it: The is used to refer to a specific or particular member of a group. For example, "I just saw the most popular movie of the year." There are many movies, but only one particular movie is the most popular. Therefore, we use the.


    "A/an" is used to refer to a non-specific or non-particular member of the group. For example, "I would like to go see a movie." Here, we're not talking about a specific movie. We're talking about any movie. There are many movies, and I want to see any movie. I don't have a specific one in mind.
    Let's look at each kind of article a little more closely.
    Indefinite Articles: a and an

    "A" and "an" signal that the noun modified is indefinite, referring to any member of a group. For example:
    • "My daughter really wants a dog for Christmas." This refers to any dog. We don't know which dog because we haven't found the dog yet.
    • "Somebody call a policeman!" This refers to any policeman. We don't need a specific policeman; we need any policeman who is available.
    • "When I was at the zoo, I saw an elephant!" Here, we're talking about a single, non-specific thing, in this case an elephant. There are probably several elephants at the zoo, but there's only one we're talking about here.
    Remember, using a or an depends on the sound that begins the next word. So...

    • a + singular noun beginning with a consonant: a boy; a car; a bike; a zoo; a dog
    • an + singular noun beginning with a vowel: an elephant; an egg; an apple; an idiot; an orphan
    • 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
    If the noun is modified by an adjective, the choice between a and an depends on the initial sound of the adjective that immediately follows the article:
    • a broken egg
    • an unusual problem
    • a European country (sounds like 'yer-o-pi-an,' i.e. begins with consonant 'y' sound)
    Remember, too, that in English, the indefinite articles are used to indicate membership in a group:
    • I am a teacher. (I am a member of a large group known as teachers.)
    • Brian is an Irishman. (Brian is a member of the people known as Irish.)
    • Seiko is a practicing Buddhist. (Seiko is a member of the group of people known as Buddhists.)
    Definite Article: the

    The definite article is used before singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific or particular. The signals that the noun is definite, that it refers to a particular member of a group. For example:
    "The dog that bit me ran away." Here, we're talking about a specific dog, the dog that bit me.
    "I was happy to see the policeman who saved my cat!" Here, we're talking about a particular policeman. Even if we don't know the policeman's name, it's still a particular policeman because it is the one who saved the cat.
    "I saw the elephant at the zoo." Here, we're talking about a specific noun. Probably there is only one elephant at the zoo.
    Count and Noncount Nouns

    The can be used with noncount nouns, or the article can be omitted entirely.
    • "I love to sail over the water" (some specific body of water) or "I love to sail over water" (any water).
    • "He spilled the milk all over the floor" (some specific milk, perhaps the milk you bought earlier that day) or "He spilled milk all over the floor" (any milk).
    "A/an" can be used only with count nouns.
    • "I need a bottle of water."
    • "I need a new glass of milk."
    Most of the time, you can't say, "She wants a water," unless you're implying, say, a bottle of water.
    Geographical use of the

    There are some specific rules for using the with geographical nouns.
    Do not use the before:
    • names of most countries/territories: Italy, Mexico, Bolivia; however, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the United States
    • names of cities, towns, or states: Seoul, Manitoba, Miami
    • names of streets: Washington Blvd., Main St.
    • names of lakes and bays: Lake Titicaca, Lake Erie except with a group of lakes like the Great Lakes
    • names of mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Fuji except with ranges of mountains like the Andes or the Rockies or unusual names like the Matterhorn
    • names of continents (Asia, Europe)
    • names of islands (Easter Island, Maui, Key West) except with island chains like the Aleutians, the Hebrides, or the Canary Islands
    Do use the before:
    • names of rivers, oceans and seas: the Nile, the Pacific
    • points on the globe: the Equator, the North Pole
    • geographical areas: the Middle East, the West
    • deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas: the Sahara, the Persian Gulf, the Black Forest, the Iberian Peninsula
    Omission of Articles

    Some common types of nouns that don't take an article are:
    • Names of languages and nationalities: Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian
    • Names of sports: volleyball, hockey, baseball
    • Names of academic subjects: mathematics, biology, history, computer science

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