English language skills

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 3)

 

In part 2 of this series, we spoke of some situations when the definite article the is generally used.

 

Comparatively speaking, there are more rules for using the definite article than the indefinite variety, a or an. Another thing to remember is that the can appear before singular as well as plural nouns.

 

Here are some more rules to help you.

When to use the

6. Referring to an entire group of people

Examples:

The aged are generally reluctant to use any form of technology.  

[aged = a collective reference to people who are very old]

 

The Swiss are known for their ability to manufacture world-class watches.

[Swiss = a collective reference to citizens of Switzerland]  

 

7. Before the names of countries which have a common noun such as ‘republic’, ‘united’, ‘states’, or which sound plural

Examples:

Dubai is arguably the most popular city in the United Arab Emirates.

My cousin works in the Philippines.

 

8. Before the names of newspapers

Examples:

I met a journalist who works for the Independent at yesterday’s party.

The Sun is one of the most widely read newspapers in the UK.

 

9. Before the names of most hotels and restaurants

Examples:

I’ve booked us a table at the Canopy, owned by the famous chef Marcus.

Let’s meet at the Swan, the pub near Graeme’s house.

 

Remember, this rule does not apply if the hotel or restaurant is named after a person.

 

10. Before the names of families

Examples:

We’re having dinner with the Watsons tonight.

The Kanes are an amazingly talented bunch.

 

11. Before the names of rivers, seas, mountain groups, island groups, and deserts

Examples:

Debbie’s new apartment overlooks the Thames.

My uncle and aunt are holidaying in the West Indies.

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world.

 

12. Before the names of most museums, art galleries, monuments, and famous buildings

Examples:

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is a spectacular structure.

Have you ever been to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra?

 

And here’s something interesting to end with: the definite article is pronounced differently depending on what word follows it. If it appears before a word beginning with a consonant sound, we pronounce it like ‘thuh’; if it is before a word beginning with a vowel sound, we pronounce it like ‘thee’.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 2)

 

 

 

In a previous post, we looked at the indefinite article, a or an, and when to use it. In this one, we’ll talk about the use of the definite article the.

 

When to use the

Unlike the indefinite variety, the definite article is used to talk about a noun that is specific. Its presence in a sentence suggests that the speaker and listener, or the writer and reader, both clearly understand which noun is being referred to.

 

Here are some situations when the indefinite article the is commonly used.

  1. Referring to something that has already been mentioned

Examples:

I had some pizza and a glass of lemonade. The pizza was so tasty!  

Did you know that a couple met with an accident right here yesterday? The woman is still in a coma.  

 

  1. Referring to something which the listener is already familiar with

Examples:

I’m going to the supermarket. Would you like something?

[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific store, where they usually buy things]

 

Where is the cookery book? I can’t find it in the kitchen.

[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific book which they usually keep in the kitchen]

 

  1. Before superlative forms (e.g. tallest, shortest, fastest, most beautiful), as there is generally just one in a group which can be the tallest, fastest, most beautiful, etc.

Examples:

My dad’s office is located in the tallest building in our city.

She is the most beautiful girl in my town.

 

  1. Assuming there is only one thing of a kind somewhere

Examples:

Excuse me, can you please direct me to the cafeteria?

[The speaker assumes that there is only one cafeteria in the area]

 

Let’s go to that new mall on Orchard Street. I’ll meet you in the car park at around 11.

[The speaker assumes that the mall has just on car park]

 

  1. Referring to unique people or things

Examples:

The principal has called for an emergency meeting.

[There is usually just one principal in a college/university]

 

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

[There is only one star by the name sun in the solar system]

 

The definite article is the most frequently used word in English, so we’ll be back soon with more on its use.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 1)


When learning a new language, the size of words doesn’t always matter. Sometimes using really small words accurately can be a real nightmare. Many English learners, for instance, find the use of articles confusing.

Articles – a, an, and the – are little words that go before nouns (i.e. person, place, thing, or idea). They help us identify if the noun we are referring to is definite or indefinite. A noun is definite when the speaker and the listener both know what is being spoken about. If not, it becomes an indefinite one.

 

Example 1: “Shall we watch a film tonight? How about an action flick?”

 

Example 2: “After a week, I watched the film again with my family at the local cinema.”

 

By choosing to use the indefinite article, a or an, we are referring to films in general: any film, or any action film. On the other hand, use of the definite article the indicates that we are referring to a specific film: the one the speaker saw a week ago.

As there are tons of rules stating when to use which type of article, and when to omit articles, learners commonly struggle with this area of language use. Here are some basic rules to help you better understand articles.

 

When to use a or an

Before getting to rules, it’s important to know the difference between the two indefinite articles, a and an. We use a before a word that begins with a consonant sound (e.g. nurse), while we use an before a word that begins with a vowel sound (e.g. engineer).

 

Now here are some situations when we generally use the indefinite article.

  1. Classifying people based on what job they do

Examples:

Katie’s sister is a nurse.

My daughter is studying to be an engineer.

 

  1. Referring to a singular countable noun which is not specific

Examples:

Can I have a pen, please?

[Any pen should do]

 

We should get ourselves a car.

[Any car, not one in particular]

 

Remember, we don’t use the indefinite article before plural (e.g. a nurses) or uncountable (e.g. an information) nouns. More about articles in later posts, so do watch this space.

 

Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary (Part 3)


Image courtesy of Jil Wright via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

So far in the series, we’ve spoke about four different ways to increase your word power: reading extensively, learning words in context, listening, and practising using new words. Here are two more tips to help build your vocabulary.

5. Keep a dictionary close at hand, always

When it comes to vocabulary building, an obvious place to start would be somewhere you are likely to encounter thousands of new words: a dictionary. If you don’t have one, invest in one, for a good dictionary is worth its weight in gold. Maybe you prefer to do things the old-fashioned way by consulting a printed, unabridged version. Or maybe you wish to have something more sophisticated, such as an app or online version. Whatever your choice, it hardly matters. The one thing that does is that you always have a dictionary close at hand while reading. Why? You are more likely to use it that way.

 

Apart from the meaning of a word, a dictionary also has alternative meanings, pronunciation, word origin, useful expressions and phrases featuring the word, collocations, and lots more. In short, it’s a treasure trove of information, so make the most of it.

 

6. Make it fun

Let’s face it, learning of any kind could be a pretty dreary affair after a while, even if you happen to be an eager beaver! So, try as best as you can to make vocabulary building a fun activity.  A game of Scrabble, for instance, is an enjoyable way of getting introduced to new lexis. If board games aren’t your thing, you can always play a spoken word game. A quick online search should get you a list of ideas. If you wish to push yourself, then try a crossword puzzle or perhaps an anagram. Crossword puzzles can be a right challenge, as creators are typically forced to use unusual words so that everything fits into the puzzles they design.

 

Remember, there’s no one perfect way to acquire an extensive vocabulary. Feel free to chop and change learning strategies so that you find out what works best for you.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

worth its weight in gold
Form : phrase
Meaning : very useful
Example : A good cookery book is worth its weight in gold.

 

unabridged
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes a book or article that has not been shortened in length
Example : I’ve seen the unabridged version of this play, and it is just too long.

 

close at hand
Form : phrase
Meaning : near
Example : Is there a hospital close at hand?

 

treasure trove
Form : noun
Meaning : describes something containing many useful things
Example : The encyclopedia is a treasure trove of information.

 

 

chop and change
Form : phrase
Meaning : to keep changing what you are doing
Example : Football coaches sometimes chop and change players to find the right balance.

Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Velaia (Paris Peking) via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In Part 1, we looked at two sure-shot ways to build your vocabulary: forming a reading habit and learning words in context. Here are some more suggestions to increase your word power.

 

3. Listen to natural speech

Want to learn new words and pronounce them right at the same time? Listening to lots of natural speech can be the answer. From a lexical point of view, it can introduce you to several new words within a specific context, making it easier for you to retain them in your memory. Should you choose to give this method a try, be sure to watch videos that come with transcript. That way, you get to listen to new vocabulary as well as see it. A good place to begin is TED Talks (www.ted.com), where there are plenty of short, powerful talks to choose from. When you watch a TED video, see to it that you read the transcript and jot down new vocabulary. You may also want to pay attention to how words are pronounced so that you say them just the right way.

 

4. Try using new words or risk losing them

Learning new vocabulary is one thing, but forming an ability to recall them when needed is something else. Not putting newly learnt words to immediate use could mean losing them in the long run, as they may no longer be fresh in your memory by then. One way of getting round this problem is to focus only on vocabulary that is personally relevant, as you are sure to have opportunities to use them at regular intervals. Keeping this in mind, before you decide to learn new lexis, ask yourself whether the word or phrase is something you would use in your day-to-day conversations. And make an effort only if the answer is a resounding yes! Your task doesn’t end there, though. Use the newly acquired word at the earliest opportunity. Once you’ve used it a few times, it usually sticks in your mind, becoming a part of your active vocabulary.

 

We’ll be back with more vocabulary tips in the next part.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

sure-shot
Form : adjective
Meaning : certain to be successful
Example : Continuous practice is a sure-shot way to improve your sporting skills.

 

transcript
Form : noun
Meaning : the words that someone says in written form
Example : The police have transcripts of all the telephone conversations made by the suspect.  

 

in the long run
Form : phrase
Meaning : at some time in the future
Example : Although expensive, new machinery will help us cut costs in the long run.

 

stick in your mind
Form : phrase
Meaning : stay in your memory for a long time
Example : He has won several tournaments, but his first ever final sticks in my mind.

 

Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary (Part 1)

Image courtesy of Thad Zajdowicz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

One striking feature that sets proficient English speakers apart from those less competent is their lexical range. Quite often they exhibit a near-magical ability to summon just the right kind of word or phrase, with the result that they convey with precision what they wish to say.

Considering that words are the basic blocks using which we give and receive information, the broader your lexical range gets the easier it becomes to communicate. Here are some handy tips to expand your vocabulary.

1. Read regularly!

Anyone who has tried to work on their vocabulary must’ve had this advice time and again. After all, reading is the most obvious way to learn new vocabulary, because it exposes you to the same words and phrases at regular intervals. That said, building vocabulary may not be a priority when you are reading interesting stuff. So, note down unfamiliar words while reading. Afterwards pick out useful ones you wish to learn. Remember, reading can also provide reinforcement. When you come across vocabulary you’ve learnt recently, and you understand what it means, it is proof enough that you have learnt it well.

A confusion that many learners face is deciding what to read and what not to. While there are no hard and fast rules, see to it that you pick materials that interest you. And if that happens to be a lowbrow magazine on fashion, so be it. What’s important is to choose something you find enjoyable, with a view to possibly learning new words.

 

2. Learn vocabulary in context

Some learners make the mistake of learning vocabulary in isolation. In other words, they try to learn a random collection of new words off by heart. Instead, learn vocabulary in chunks or sentences so that a context begins to appear, helping you understand when and how the word can be used. The added benefit is that this way you get introduced to a lot of new words at the same time.

If done the right way, building vocabulary can be enjoyable and beneficial.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

reinforcement
Form : noun
Meaning : the act of making an idea stronger
Example : Jokes can sometimes be a reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

 

hard and fast
Form : phrase
Meaning : not able to be changed
Example : There are no hard and fast rules about how a film should end.

 

lowbrow
Form : adjective
Meaning : lacking serious cultural or artistic value
Example : Although his books are quite popular, critics consider them to be lowbrow literature. 

 

in isolation
Form : phrase
Meaning : separately
Example : Environmental damage cannot be considered in isolation, as it affects humans and animals.

 

by heart
Form : phrase
Meaning : to learn something so well that you are able to remember it without having to read it again
Example : Mike knows all the poems in his text book by heart. 

 

Record Your Way to Fluent English

Image courtesy of Ernest Duffoo via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

All language learners want to be fluent speakers, sounding both smooth and natural. Unfortunately, getting there isn’t that easy. Fluency is not just about speaking a language without hesitation; organising your thoughts well and expressing ideas clearly are important too.

 

When you’re working towards achieving fluency, regular feedback is a must. So, if you want to find out how well-structured and clear what you are saying is, you may need a listener, such as a study partner or teacher, to give you feedback.

 

What many language learners don’t realise is using an audio recorder can be extremely handy here. In fact, if you have one (and most smart phones will have one), you may not need help from others to find areas for improvement.

So, what exactly can a recording device do for you?

 

 

1. Assess yourself

When you’re giving a talk or presentation, you don’t always listen critically to what you are saying, because all your efforts go into talking for as long as you can and keeping your head above water! So recording your talk and listening to it repeatedly can help identify any language problems you have.

If your ability to use English is limited, it may be hard to notice all the mistakes that you make, but you could still make out things such as: how frequently you pause, what type of vocabulary you fall down on, and so on.

Intermediate or advanced learners, on the other hand, can discover a lot more about their language ability through such an exercise.

 

2. Chart your progress

Quite often, we’re unsure as to how much our ability to speak a language has developed over a particular period of time. Listening to different recordings of ourselves that are made weeks or months apart can tell us just how much progress has been made in that time. It can really spur you on to work even harder on your language fluency and make a step up.

So, put that recording feature on your mobile phone to good use, and start developing your speaking skills.

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