Guidelines for article usage

Guidelines for article usage

In English grammar, the articles are the words ‘a,’ ‘an,’ and ‘the.’ They are used to define whether something is specific or unspecific.

To make a generalization

  • Singular countable nouns: A/An

a. A dog is a great pet.

b. An elephant is huge.

c. A pencil case is necessary for every student.

In these examples, the speaker is talking about something in general. For example, a dog can be any dog, all dogs, dogs in general. 

  • plural count nouns: nothing

a. dogs make good pets.

b. Elephants are huge.

c. Pencils contain lead.

In these examples, the speaker is talking about any dogs, any elephants, any pencils, all dogs, all pencils, all elephants, dogs in general, elephants in general, and pencils in general. 

Note: the meanings are the same in these kinds of sentences. 

A dog is  a great pet.

Dogs are great pets.

  • Noncount nouns: nothing

a. Fruit is good for your health.

b. Coffee contains Caffeine.

C. I like music.

The speaker is talking about any fruit, all coffee, and music in general. Music, coffee, and fruit are uncountable general nouns in these examples, so no article is needed. 

Note: for uncountable nouns, you can’t use ‘a’ or ‘an’. If it is specific, you can use ‘the’.

To talk about non-specific person(s) or thing(s)

  • Singular count nouns: A/An

a. I saw a dog at the park. 

b. She ate an apple.

c. I need a pencil.

In the first example, the speaker is saying, ” I saw one dog. (not two dogs, not many dogs, not some dogs). It wasn’t a specific dog (your dog, my friend’s dog, the neighbor’s dog). It was only one dog out of the whole group of animals called dogs.”

  • Plural count nouns: some

a. I saw some dogs at the park. 

b. My sister bought some apples.

c. He has some pencils in his pencil case. 

In the first example, the speaker is saying, “I saw more than one dog. They weren’t specific dogs (your dogs, your friend’s dogs, my teacher’s dogs). The exact number of dogs isn’t important (three dogs, seven dogs); I am simply saying that I saw an indefinite number of dogs.

  • Noncount nouns: some

a. I bought some fruit

b. My brother drank some coffee.

c. I’d like to listen to some music.

In the first example, the speaker is saying that he bought an indefinite amount of fruit. The exact amount (three pounds of fruit, three apples, five oranges) isn’t important. And he is not talking about specific fruit (that fruit, the fruit in that store).

The speaker and the listener are thinking about the same specific person(s) or thing(s)

  • Singular count nouns: the

a. Did you feed the dog?

b. She is in the living room.

c. The sun is shining.

d. Please close the window. 

e. The president will visit our city tomorrow. 

f. I had a sandwich and a drink. I gave the sandwich to my friend.

In the first example, the listener and the speaker are thinking about the same specific dog. The listener knows which dog the speaker is talking about: The dog that they own, or maybe the dog that they feed everyday. There is only one dog that the speaker could possibly be talking about.

In the last example, the speaker uses ‘the’ when she or he mentions something for the second time. In the second sentence, the listener knows which sandwich the speaker is talking about.

  • Plural count nouns: the

a. Did you feed the dogs?

b. The pencils on the table are Sara’s.

c. Please turn off the phones.

d. I had some sandwiches and some drinks. I gave the sandwiches to Sara. 

In the first example, the listener and the speaker are thinking about more than one dog, and they are thinking about the same specific dogs.

In the last example, ‘the’ is used for something that was mentioned for the second time. 

  • Noncount nouns: the

a. The fruit in this bowl is fresh. 

b. The music is too loud.

c. The air smells fresh today.

d. I drank some hot chocolate and some coffee. The hot chocolate was hot.

When ‘the’ is used with noncount nouns, the speaker knows or can assume the listener is familiar with and thinking about the same specific thing. 

In the last example, ‘the’ is used for something that was mentioned for the second time. 

Using the or nothing with names

The is not used with titled names.

  • We met Mr. Wang.
  • I know Doctor Smith.
  • President Rice has been in the news.

The is not used with the names of continents.

  • He lives in Europe.
  • Asia is the largest continent.
  • Have you ever been to Africa?

The is not used with the names of most countries.

  • He lives in France.
  • Brazil is a large country.
  • Have you ever been to Thailand?

The is used in the names of only a few countries: the united states, the Netherlands, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, the United Arab Emirates, the Dominican Republic.

  • He lives in the Unites States.
  • The Netherlands is in Europe.
  • Have you ever been to Philippines?

The is used with the names of rivers, oceans, and seas.

  • The Nile river is long.
  • They crossed the Pacific ocean.
  • The Yellow sea is in Asia.

The isn’t used with the names of lakes. 

  • Chicago is on lake Michigan.
  • Lake Titicaca lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia. 

The is not used with the names of cities.

  • She lives in Paris. 
  • New York is the biggest city in the U.S.
  • Have you ever been to Istanbul?

The is used with the names of mountain ranges.

  • They hiked in the Alps.
  • The Andes are in South America.

The is not used with the names of individual mountains.

  • She climbed Mount Everest. 
  • Mount Fuji is in Japan. 

Capitalization

  • Capitalize the first letter of the first word of a sentence. 

We watched a movie last night. 

She had a blast at the party.

They played for hours. 

  • Capitalize the first letter of the names of people.

My bestie was Mary.

I didn’t expect to see Sara in that party. 

He wanted to ask Jane out. 

  • Capitalize the titles used with the names of people. 

I saw Doctor(Dr.) Smith. 

There is Professor (prof.)Luke.

  • Capitalize months, days, and holidays.

I was born in June.

Her birthday is on Monday. 

It snowed on New Year’s day. 

  • Capitalize the names of places: cities, states provinces, countries, continents, oceans, lakes, rivers, seas, deserts, mountains, schools, businesses, streets, malls, buildings, parks, zoos, etc.

She lives in Chicago.

He was born in California.

They are from Canada.

Iran is in Asia.

They love the Pacific ocean.

Chicago is on lake Michigan.

The Nile river flows north. 

The Sahara desert is in Africa. 

We visited the Rocky mountains.

I went to Alzahra school. 

The name of my institute is Fartak. 

We live in Danesh Amooz street. 

I went Jogging in Melat park. 

  • Capitalize the names of courses

I am Taking Chemistry 105.

  • Capitalize the names of books, movies, articles

Jump is one of my favorite books. 

Modern Family is one of my favorite series.

Note: don’t capitalize articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions(and, but, or, nor, so, yet, for), and short prepositions (in, with, on, etc).

  • Capitalize the names of languages and nationalities.

They speak English. 

Can you speak Spanish?

They are Japanese.

  • Capitalize the names of religions

Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc.

She is a Muslim.

 

Exercises

Fill in the blanks with a, an, the, or nothing.

  1. I like ……… blue T-shirt over there better than ……..red one.
  2. Their car does 150 miles …… hour.
  3. Where’s ……. USB drive I lent you last week?
  4. Do you still live in ………Bristol?
  5. Is your mother working in ……. old office building?
  6. Carol’s father works as ……. electrician.
  7. The tomatoes are 99 pence ……. kilo.
  8. What do you usually have for ………. breakfast?
  9. Ben has …….. terrible headache.
  10. After this tour you have ……..whole afternoon free to explore the city.
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