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Articles

Articles

(from the Purdue OWL website https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/540/1/)

 

What is an article? Basically, an article is an adjective. Like adjectives, articles modify nouns.

English has two articles: the and a/anThe is used to refer to specific or particular nouns; a/an is used to modify non-specific or non-particular nouns. We call the the definite article and a/an the indefinite article.

 

the = definite article

a/an = indefinite article

 

For example, if I say, "Let's read the book," I mean a specific book. If I say, "Let's read a book," I mean any book rather than a specific book.

 

Indefinite Articles: a and an

"A" and "an" signal that the noun modified is indefinite, referring to any member of a group. For example:

  • "My daughter really wants a dog for Christmas." This refers to any dog. We don't know which dog because we haven't found the dog yet.

  • "Somebody call policeman!" This refers to any policeman. We don't need a specific policeman; we need any policeman who is available.

Remember, too, that in English, the indefinite articles are used to indicate membership in a group:

  • I am a teacher. (I am a member of a large group known as teachers.)

  • Brian is an Irishman. (Brian is a member of the people known as Irish.)

  • Seiko is practicing Buddhist. (Seiko is a member of the group of people known as Buddhists.)

Definite Article: the

The definite article is used before singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific or particular. The signals that the noun is definite, that it refers to a particular member of a group. For example:

 

  • "The dog that bit me ran away." Here, we're talking about a specific dog, the dog that bit me.

  • "I was happy to see the policeman who saved my cat!" Here, we're talking about a particular policeman. Even if we don't know the policeman's name, it's still a particular policeman because it is the one who saved the cat.

Some common types of nouns that don't take an article are:

  • Names of languages and nationalities: Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian (unless you are referring to the population of the nation: "The Spanish are known for their warm hospitality.")

  • Names of sports: volleyball, hockey, baseball

  • Names of academic subjects: mathematics, biology, history, computer science

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