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.
- Classifying people based on what job they do
Katie’s sister is a nurse.
My daughter is studying to be an engineer.
- Referring to a singular countable noun which is not specific
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.