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Articles. Free English Lesson with Test and Certificate.

Quick Articles study for SAT, IELTS, TESOL and other exams.

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How to use articles in English

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Suzy says:

 

Articles are a basic building block of English. The rules are not complicated, and you will learn more about articles by just reading and speaking more English. Articles can help you explain yourself more clearly. For example, "do you need A pencil?" refers to any pencil, but "do you need THE blue pencil?" refers to a specific pencil.

Here's a few more examples:

- He bought a notebook.
- She ate an apple.
- I need to buy a carton of milk.
- The milk is very expensive.
- I live in New York.

 

Your English lesson about Articles

 


Welcome to the Articles Lesson! In this lesson, you will learn many of the general rules about articles.

Remember to pay attention to the examples and not just the rules, so you can learn how to use these words naturally. This is very important with articles. Articles are rarely taught in English speaking countries. For native English speakers, articles just come naturally. These are parts of the language that don’t require active thought. 

When used properly, articles just sound right to a native speaker. Try to take some time and listen for articles when you are listening to English. Try to recognise how and when they are used.

We will talk about the rules here, but as your English skills continue to improve, you will be able to start to use these naturally without thinking about them.
 
To begin, the articles are a, an, and the. These very small and commonly used words can have a major impact on meaning. Articles are important because they give us information about the noun. Here are some examples:
 
I want to buy a new sports car.
 
In this case, a tells you that I want to buy only one sports car and that I don’t have a specific sports car in mind.
 
I want to buy the red sports car.
 
In this sentence, the tells you the specific car that I want to buy. I want the red sports car.
 
Here is an example of a short conversation:
 
Q: Do you need a pencil?
A: Yes, can I please borrow the sharpest pencil you have?

 
In both sentences, we are only talking about one single pencil. In the first sentence, Student A offers any pencil (non-specific), and Student B requests the sharpest pencil specifically.
 
From the above examples you can see that we use a (or an) for indefinite (not specific) nouns, and we use the for definite (specific) nouns.
 
Next, let’s look more closely at a and an.
 
These two words are used in exactly the same way, but we use an if the next word begins with a vowel sound. If the next word starts with a consonant, then a should be used. (Remember, the vowels are a, e, i, o, u … and there’s a note about words that sound like they start with a vowel below.)
 
I’d like a soda please.
He bought a notebook.
She ate an apple.
I’ll be finished in an hour.
She is riding a horse.
After graduation, I’ll be an Md.

 
Notice that even though the word ‘hour’ begins with the consonant ‘h’, we pronounce the word “our” so we should use an instead of a. However, for the word horse, we use a because we do pronounce the ‘h’ when we say horse. The same idea is used with acronyms or abbreviations. In the final example sentence above, we use an before the letters Md. because we pronounce the name of the letter ‘M’ as “em”. So, the important rule to remember is that even if the next word starts with a consonant, we use an before a vowel sound.
 
Now, look at this next set of examples:
 
I need to buy a carton of milk.
The milk is very expensive.
I need to buy milk.
 
We need a new copy machine.
The new equipment arrived yesterday.
We need some new equipment.
 
He put an ice cube in his drink.
The ice melted quickly.
He put some ice in his drink.

 
Notice that for uncountable nouns we cannot use singular articles like a or an. We often use the or some or nothing at all (no article) to modify uncountable nouns.
 
In these Everyday English lessons we have already seen that the is used with specific (definite) nouns and with uncountable nouns like ice, equipment, and milk. Here is one more rule to help you use the correctly. We use the when it is a plural noun.
 
The students were very happy to see me.
I finished the exams last week.
When I got home, the dishes were still dirty.

  
Next here are some examples when we do not use an article.
 
I never do well in _____ exams.
_____French fries taste delicious with _____salt.
I like to ride _____ bikes.

 
Notice that we do not use articles in front of indefinite (non-specific) uncountable or indefinite plural nouns.
 
So, just to review, here are the important rules to remember:
 
- We use a/an for nouns that are singular and indefinite (non-specific).
- We use the for nouns that are definite (specific) singular, definite uncountable, or definite plural.
- We do not use an article for nouns that are indefinite (non-specific) uncountable or indefinite plural.
 
Next, let’s look at a few special cases. First, the geographical use of the.
 
Do not use the before proper nouns like the names of people. Similarly, we usually do not use the in front of place names. However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule that we will review below.
 
Do not use the before:
 
- names of most countries/territories, e.g., Italy, Mexico, Bolivia. However, we do say the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the United States.


- names of cities, towns, provinces, or states: Beijing, New York, Las Vegas


- names of streets: Market Street, Broad Street


- names of lakes and bays: Lake Michigan, Lake Erie. But you should use the with a group of lakes like ‘the Great Lakes’.
 

- names of mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Fuji. But we do use the with ranges of mountains like the Andes or the Rockies.
 

- names of continents: Asia, Europe
 

- names of islands: Maui, Long Island. But we do use the with islands, like ‘the Hawaiian Islands’ or the ‘Canary Islands’.
 


Do use the before:
 
- names of oceans, rivers, and seas: the Nile, the Pacific, the Atlantic

 

- points on the globe: the Equator, the North Pole
 

- geographical areas: the Middle East, the North
 

- deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas: the Sahara, the Gulf of Mexico, the Rain Forest, the Iberian Peninsula
 
As you can see, we do not use the before most place names. As with most rules in the English language, there are some exceptions, but the most common place names such as streets, cities, states or provinces, and countries do not use the

Read the following sentences to get a feel for how this sounds. Again, for the most part, we do not use the before a place name.
 
I live in Beijing.
I was born in New York.
I used to live on Main Street.
He lives in China.
She is from Hong Kong.
China is a country in Asia.

 

More articles exercises


Moving on, we do not use articles before sports (baseball, football, basketball), languages or nationalities (English, Chinese, Japanese), or academic subjects (mathematics, science, history).
 
He speaks ____Chinese.
She is very good at ____ mathematics.
Frank really likes____ basketball.

So you would not say; “He speaks the Chinese,” or “Frank really likes the basketball.” That would be wrong.

Finally, let’s look at pronouns. A pronoun is a word that takes the place of one or more nouns. The most common pronouns are he, I, we, our, it, her, and their. There are other pronouns too. A pronoun is used to modify a noun, and an article is also used to modify a noun. If both are used to modify the same noun, the reader will become confused. Articles should not be used to modify pronouns. Look at the following examples to see how this works.
 
May I use the her phone? (Incorrect)
The and her should not be used together.
 
The correct sentences are:
May I use her phone?
Or, you can say
May I use the phone?
 
She gave her pencil to a him. (Not correct)
She gave her pencil to him. (Correct)
 


It’s story time
 
Now that we’ve learned a lot about articles, let’s see how they are used in a short story.  As you read the following story, pay attention to how the articles are used.
 
I lived in Philadelphia as a boy, and I still remember the first time I went to a baseball game. It was a hot summer day in July, and the whole family went. The stadium was in South Philadelphia, on the corner of Broad Street and Pattison Avenue.
 
I remember walking around the stadium as we looked for our seats. I was amazed and excited to see all of the people walking around. My family didn’t have much money in those days, so our seats were in the highest level of the ballpark. If I close my eyes, I can picture the green grass, and I remember that the bright orange seats were warm because of the hot summer sun.
 
In addition to the warm seats and the green grass, I remember the many smells. There was a warm summer breeze that day, and I could smell hot dogs, beer, and roasted peanuts.
 
I can’t remember which team won the game, but I do remember that I had a hot dog, an extra large soda, and some cotton candy. I wanted my father to buy me a baseball hat, but he said it was too expensive.
 
After a baseball game, there is usually a traffic jam as all the cars are leaving the parking lot. I’m pretty sure that at the end of a long day in the hot sun, I fell asleep in the car.
 
From that day on, I was a baseball fan, and I have always loved going to the ballpark.

 

That’s the end of the lesson on articles.

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