January 7, 2016

When Do You Use the Definite Article?

2 minute read

Articles are an essential part of the English language – you’ll come across them in virtually every single sentence you ever read or use!

But with lots of different rules about them, they can seem a bit confusing. So read on to understand how to use articles correctly.

What is an article?

First of all – what is an article?

An article is actually an adjective – and like all other adjectives, it’s used to change a noun in some way.

Unlike adjectives though, there aren’t very many types of articles out there! In fact, there are only two articles that you use in English: “the” and “a/an”. And each of them has a different meaning.

The definite article

“The” is known as the definite article in English. When this article is used, it means that you are referring to a specific or identified noun, so it will be clear to the listener or reader what exactly you are referring to.

For example:

“I want to buy the handbag with brown handles.”

The indefinite article

The other article in English is “a” or “an”. This is known as the indefinite article.

Unlike the definite article, this is used to describe nouns that are not specified or particular – instead, you are only describing a general noun from a group.

For example:

“A young boy came to my door late last night.”

“She found an oval tablet on the floor.”

An important point to remember is that there are two forms of the indefinite article: “a” and “an”. They both have the same function, but which one you use will depend on what letter the next word starts with.

For words beginning with a consonant sound, you use the indefinite article “a”. And for nouns beginning with a vowel sound, you use the article “an.”

For example:

“An orange.”

“A fast car.”

Another really important point to remember is that not all words that start with a vowel or consonant actually start with a vowel or consonant sound, as you’d expect!

Some consonants might sound like a vowel, and some vowels might sound like consonants. In this case, you use the right indefinite article for the sound.

For example:

“A unique idea” – while “unique” starts with a vowel, this word begins with a “yoo” sound, which is a consonant sound – and uses “a” instead of “an”.

“An hourly update” – “hourly” starts with a consonant, but this word begins with a vowel sound – “ow”, which means you need to use “an” instead of “a”.

If you’re not sure, just say the word out aloud and see what it sounds like!

Plurals and singular nouns

Which article do you use when you are describing plural nouns?

The definite article can be used with both singular and plural nouns, but it must only be used when you are describing a specific noun, or group of nouns.

For example:

“The children got off the bus last.”

The indefinite article, “a” or “an” is only used for a singular noun. But when you need to describe a plural and non-specific group of nouns, you can simply form the sentence without any article at all.

For example:

“I love cats! I used to have them when I was young.”

Your turn

Using the correct article can make a big difference to you use of English – so make sure you get lots of practice at using the right one! Try writing and speaking sentences with different articles, and practice with both singular and plural nouns.