Articles – how to use them

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Articles – definition

articles Articles go in front of nouns.

redbtn There are two types of articles in English:

  • the definite article [the]
  • the indefinite article [a or an].


The definite article is the — as in the book

The indefinite article is a – as in a pencil

or an — as in an apple


redbtn When using the indefinite article a is used before

redbtn an is used when the noun begins with a vowel.

redbtn This convention is based on ease of speaking. It is easier to say an apple than a apple, and a new book than an new book.

redbtn The definite article the remains the same in all cases, although speakers do vary the pronunciation according to whether a vowel or a consonant follows. For example:

[thee] – the other – the argument

[theu] – the ball – the tent

redbtn NB! Just be thankful the article is gender-free in English. [It’s not in other languages.]

redbtn Articles in English are fairly simple compared with some other European languages. English articles vary only according to ease of speaking, whereas in French they have to agree with the gender of the noun. For example

MASCULINE le bureau
(the office)
le matin
(the morning)
FEMININE la maison
(the house)
la plage
(the beach)

redbtn Students of English as a foreign language are relieved to find that the articles stay fairly constant with the exception of the variation between a and an.

redbtn However, English wasn’t always like this. Old English or Anglo-Saxon had as many variations as Latin or modern German. These have very gradually disappeared as word-order has become more crucial.

redbtn Even today, some people say an historic occasion or an hotel. This is a remnant of Middle English when, because of the French influence, the aitch was not articulated, making the initial syllables of these words effectively vowels. [End of history lesson.]

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003

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