Speaking English fluently involves not only pronouncing sounds correctly, but also using the correct rhythm and intonation. The articles THE and A or AN are used to connect parts of sentences and modify nouns. Articles help with the flow of the language and act like simple adjectives. While they may seem innocuous and are easy to omit or overlook, understanding how and when to use them is critical to your overall English fluency. This Accent Reduction ProTip will provide a simple overview to explain articles.
The three articles in English are THE and A or AN. THE is a definite article and is used to describe specific or particular nouns, which are already known to the listener. A and AN are indefinite articles and used to describe something in general and not a specific thing, person or place.
- I saw the dog at the park.
- I saw the dogs at the park.
And you use THE when talking about something well known to everyone or when you are referring to something that has previously been mentioned or discussed.
- Is the Moon really made of cheese? Here the Moon is known to everyone.
- I have a dog. The dog is brown.
- There is a sweater in my suitcase. The sweater is warm.
- Do you know where I parked the car? Here the listener knows which specific car you are talking about.
Indefinite means not precise or exact. The indefinite articles A and AN signal to the listener that the modified noun is new, unknown or being introduced for the first time.
- I want a hat. Not a specific hat, any hat.
- Mark needs a mountain bike. Not a particular mountain bike, any mountain bike in general.
- Do you have an apple?
- Let’s watch a movie this weekend and work on our pronunciation skills. Here the speaker is not talking about a specific movie.
Remember that you cannot use A or AN with plural nouns because A and AN mean a single item.
- I saw a flowers. Not Correct.
- I saw a flower. Correct because the speaker is referring to one flower.
Choosing when to use A and AN depends on the sound of the noun it modifies. A is used before a consonant and AN is used before a vowel or a silent consonant.
- A modifies singular noun beginning with a consonant like: a bike, a car, a dog, a pizza.
- AN modifies singular noun beginning with a vowel like: an elephant, an immigrant, an olive.
- A goes before a singular noun beginning with a consonant sound: a user where the sound (yo͞o′zər) begins with a consonant Y sound, so A is used as well as in a university, a uniform and a unicycle.
- AN is used before nouns starting with silent H like with an hour and an honor.
The definite article THE and the indefinite articles A and AN play a subtle but important role in English. Using them correctly in your spoken communications will help improve the overall understanding of your message.
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