An article is a functional word which we use with a noun to show its definiteness or indefiniteness. There are 2 types of articles in English: indefinite (a/an) and definite (the). The term zero article refers to occasions when there is no article preceding a noun (or a noun phrase). Here is basic information about how to use articles with different kinds of noun:
|countable singular||a / an||My friend has a car.|
|countable singular||the||The black car is his car.|
|countable plural||the||The cars are in the car park.|
|countable plural||zero article||We use cars to get somewhere.|
|uncountable singular||the||The sugar is in the sugar bowl.|
|uncountable singular||zero article||Sugar is not expensive.|
THE MAIN USES OF ARTICLES:
|Meaning||A / An||The||Zero article|
|specific||Sally has a dog.||She walks the dog.||She likes dogs.|
|general||A dog is a loyal animal.||The domestic dog is a member of the genus Canis.||Dogs were not sacred animals in ancient Egypt but cats were.|
|the listener/reader doesn’t know which person/thing exactly||There is a dog with a ball.||–||–|
|the listener/reader knows which exactly||–||The dog which I see is a Dalmatian.||–|
THE MAIN USES OF A/AN:
|something hasn’t been mentioned before||There is a book on the shelf.|
|any one of a group of things or people in general||She wants to be a doctor.|
|all things of the same kind||A snake is a reptile.|
|words expressing an amount||I am a little tired.|
|words expressing frequency||I drink coffee two times a day.|
|two things which are often mentioned together as though they are one thing||I need a cup and saucer.|
|a type of a particular thing||This creamery produces a fine cheese.|
|somebody’s name when the person is a stranger||There is a Mr. Jones waiting for you in the hall.|
|after what, such, and rather to emphasize what we are saying||She is such a good person.
What a beautiful day!
He’s rather a nice man.
THE MAIN USES OF THE:
|somebody or something you have already mentioned||There are two candies – the chocolate one is in my pocket and the caramel is on the table.|
|something unique in some way||This song is the best for me.
The moon and the sun are my inspiration. (BUT This planet has a small moon – there are other suns and moons int he universe)
|something specific + of / which||The notebook which I am holding is your present.
The capital of Great Britain is London.
|something restricted to a particular case||The popularity enjoyed by pop stars wasn’t that interesting for him.|
|the names of some countries (usually federations, republics (“collective”) and “plural” countries)||The Netherlands and the Czech Republic have signed an agreement.
The USA has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council.
The Russian Federation is commonly known as Russia.
|mountain ranges/chains||The Alps are a popular tourist destination.|
|names of canals, rivers, seas and oceans||The Nile is the longest river on Earth.
The Panama [ˌpænə’mɑː] Canal divides the national territory from north-west to south-east and is 80 km long.
The city of Mariupol is located on the coast of the Sea of Azov.
The Pacific Ocean occupies a central place in the lives of the people of the Pacific Islands.
|somebody who we visit regularly||I am going to see the doctor tomorrow.|
|the name of a whole group (if these are clearly plural) / family||The Johnsons live here.
The Beatles are a legend. (BUT Pink Floyd are a legend too)
The Social Democrats are popular in the country now.
|something well-known because it is a part of everyday life or nature||I always have breakfast in the morning.|
|parts of the body||He kissed her on the lips.|
|an adjective which is used as a noun to refer to a whole group / nationality||The British consume much tea.
(Single examples are not formed in the same way: a Frenchman/woman, an Englishman/woman)
It’s the area where the poor live.
|dates (in speech)||She was born on the second of January (January 2 in writing).|
|a type of entertainment||Let’s go to the theatre/theater (American English).|
|somebody in the official position (these tend to be “unique”)||The Pope is going to visit this church.
The director of studies has come.
(BUT if the title has a description coming after the noun, the is more likely, but not essential: She became President in 1999. She became (the) President of India in 1999.)
THE ZERO ARTICLE (ZERO DETERMINER) IS USED BEFORE:
|Zero article use||Examples|
|the plural form of a countable noun which is used in a general sense||I read books a lot.|
|an uncountable noun which is used in a general sense||I like pop music.|
|names of languages||I am learning English.
I am learning the English language.
|an adjective if it is not followed by a noun||It is beautiful.|
|airports / train stations||Heathrow is a huge airport.
Shinjuku Station is a major railway station in Tokyo.
|universities||She’s always dreamed to study at Oxford University.
She’s always dreamed to study at the University of Oxford.
|shops/restaurants named after people / banks||He works at McDonald’s.
Let’s go to Brown’s Restaurant.
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited is the largest bank in the world.
|churches / cathedrals||St. Paul’s Cathedral is definitely worth seeing.|
|meals||I always have lunch in the same café.
I decided to have a good lunch at the most famous inn in the region.
|diseases / illnesses||Flu can be very dangerous (generally speaking).
(the/a can also be used): She has come down with the flu.
We think it’s a flu or something.
|streets / roads||She lives in Fifth Avenue.
Route 66 runs directly beneath that building.
|mountain peaks||Mount Everest is the highest peak of the world.|
|continents||Africa is sometimes called Dark Continent.|
|most countries / states||They live in Alabama.
Australia occupies a whole continent.
|lakes||Lake Baikal is the deepest on the planet.|
|a school / college / prison / church when not focusing on any particular one||Their children go to school.
Then how could he enter college?
I must now go to church.
I don’t want to go to prison.
|hospitals / universities etc. when talking about the purpose of the institution, not the building||He’s in hospital now but he’ll be getting better soon.
Women occupy many more part-time student spaces at university.
|a way of travelling||I like to travel by bus.|
|+ common phrases like at home, at work, in bed||She likes to spend time at home.
He is at work now.
She is in bad with a cold.
Are you ready for some more information on articles? Check out our post on intermediate-advanced rules about English articles.