Articles in English - A, An, The
There are only three articles in English: a, an (indefinite article) and the (definite article).
We use a / an when the listener doesn’t know what thing we mean. We use the when it is clear which thing we mean.
Example: I watched a movie last night. The movie was thrilling.
Use of a and an
We use a or an
- only with singular nouns.
- when we are talking about a thing in general.
Example: I need a new laptop. Hand me a pencil, please.
- with professions.
Example: He is a postman.
- to show the person / thing is one of a group.
Example: She is a student at our school.
- with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind.
Example: A cat likes drinking milk.
Use of the
We use the
- when we talk about a specific thing.
- when it is clear which thing or person we mean.
- when there is only one of something.
What is the highest building in the world?
Washington is the capital of the United States.
The moon is bright tonight.
- to talk about geographical points on the globe like rivers, oceans, seas, canals, deserts,...
Example: The Nile is the longest river.
- when we talk about musical instruments, plants, animals and currencies.
He plays the piano well.
The rose is my favourite flower.
The dollar is a strong currency.
The tiger lives in Asia.
- when we refer to a system or service.
Examples: When does the train arrive? We should call the ambulance.
- with Adjectives like rich, poor or unemployed to talk about groups of people.
Example: Do you think the rich should pay more taxes?
- with countries which contain the words state(s), kingdom, republic or union Examples: the UK, the USA
- with countries which have plural nouns as their names
Example: the Netherlands, the Bahamas
- before newspapers, organisations, hotels, pubs and restaurants, well known buildings or works of art and families.
Examples: the Times, the United Nations, the Ritz, the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, the Simpsons
We don't usually use an article
- to talk about things in general.
- before the names of countries, cities, towns and villages.
- with plural nouns and uncountable nouns when talking about them generally.
Examples: She has got long hair. He wears black shoes.
- when talking about sports, people's first names, languages, names of shops, religions, meals, days, months and holidays.
Sandra is her best friend.
Mount Everest is the highest mountain.
She speaks Spanish fluently.
Sunday is my favourite day of the week.
What would you like for breakfast?
except the High Street
- with individual lakes, islands and mountains.
She lives near Lake Superior.
Have you ever visited Long Island.
Mount Everest is the highest mountain.
except the Matterhorn
- with most names of towns, streets, stations and airports.
Examples: They have a shop in Oxford Street. He lives in Rome.
- with parks, universities, colleges, hospitals, temples, churches, malls, stadiums, public squares, beaches, waterfalls and canyons.
Example: We also visited St Paul's Cathedral.
except the Grand Canyon
- but we often use an article when using "the...of"
Example: the University of Edinburgh
Illnesses or diseases
- don't use an article with cancer, malaria and AIDS.
- use the with flue, measles and mumps.
- use a /an or the with most arches, pains and attacks.
Examples: I had a cold. The cold wasn't very bad.
- don't use an article if it follows a verb.
Example: I drove east all the day.
- use the after a preposition and compass directions.
Examples: My house is in the south of the city. The shop is on the left. I love the South.
- we don't use an article: at night, at noon, every week, every day, every night, last morning, last week, all night, all day, tomorrow, yesterday,...
- use the with in the morning, in the afternoon, during the night, the winter, the summer, the day after tomorrow,...
- use a /an or the with whole and entire.
Examples: We spent a whole week in Madrid. I spent the whole day watching TV.