When should I use 'a' and 'an'?
Use 'A' or 'AN' with singular countable nouns whose specific identity is not
known to the reader.
The identity may be unknown because it is being mentioned for the first
time, or because it is unknown even to the writer. A usually means "one
among many" but can also mean "any one."
'A' is used before a word beginning
with a consonant sound: a banana, a hand, a show.
'AN' is used before a word beginning with a vowel sound: an eagle, an honor,
Notice that it is the vowel sound
that matters: a hand, an honor.
When should I use 'the'?
Use 'the' with most nouns whose specific identity is know to the reader.
Usually the noun will be clear to the
reader for one of the following reasons:
(1) the noun has been previously
(2) A phrase or clause following the
noun restricts its identity
(3) A superlative such as best makes
the noun's identity specific
(4) The noun describes a unique
person, place, or thing
(5) The context or situation makes
the noun's identity clear
a nice apartment by
the lake. The
apartment has two bedrooms and
The fireplace will be
nice this winter.
of the apartment and fireplace are known after they are mentioned the first
speeding car nearly hit me. Three police cars followed it. Later, I found
out that the car had
been stolen, and the
driver was arrested.
of the car is known after it is mentioned once. The identity of the driver
is clear because he or she is specifically the driver of the stolen car.)
a tall boy, but Nicole
dated the tallest boy
in the school.
(Lauren's boyfriend was one of many tall boys, so his identity isn't
specific. However, we know exactly who Nicole's boyfriend is: the tallest
Do not look directly at the
(There is only one sun in our solar system. so its identity is clear.)
Remember! Do not use 'a' or 'an'
with plural or uncountable nouns.
How can I get better?
Typically, articles are one of the most difficult grammatical concepts for
students who are learning English. The rules always have exceptions, and
some uses of articles are nearly impossible for native English speakers to
explain. The best ways to learn articles are to PRACTICE WRITING and to