Articles | What Are Definite and Indefinite Articles?

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What Is an Article?

An article is a word that helps define a noun as specific or non-specific. In English, there are three articles: a, an, and the.


This is the book that Dad said is a must-read. (specific)

By using the article "the", we are showing that this is the exact same book that Dad keeps talking about as a great reading experience.

This is a book I have heard a lot about. (not specific)

The use of the article "a" in the sentence means that this is one of the many books the person has heard a lot about.

Types of Articles

There are two types of articles: the definite article and the indefinite article.

  • The Definite Article

    The definite article "the" is used to talk about one particular thing.


    You may ask a friend, "Did you pass the test?"

    You are asking if your friend has passed the test that both of you are well aware of. In other words, this is something specific rather than general.

    A Few More Examples

    Take me to the cinema that plays Friends Forever.

    You are asking them to take you not to any cinema in general, because you don't just want to watch any movie. You are particularly keen to see Friends Forever, so you want to be taken to the cinema which plays the movie.

    Is this the restaurant that opens early in the morning?

    You are especially looking for a restaurant that opens in the morning, and there is one such restaurant. So you are wondering if this is the restaurant that you were told opens in the morning.

  • The Indefinite Article

    There are two indefinite articles: a and an. The article "a" is used with words that start with a consonant sound, and the article "an" is used with words that have an initial vowel sound. The meaning of the indefinite article is that a noun is used to talk about a general thing and not a particular thing.


    Your mom might ask, "Is there a problem?"

    She is not talking about a particular problem that she knows is bothering you. Instead, she is just wondering if there is anything that is worrying you, and you need help with.

    Indefinite articles are used only with singular nouns, while the definite article can be used with both singular and plural nouns.


    Can I have a pen, please? (indefinite article)

    I ate an apple for breakfast. (indefinite article)

    Where are the children? (definite article)
    You are referring to your own children.

When Do We Use the Definite Article?

Using the definite article "the" correctly is one of the trickiest things in English grammar. Here are some instances when we use the definite article.

  • to refer to unique people or objects


    The president is expected to speak shortly.

    The sun rises in the east.

  • with adjectives to refer to a whole group of people


    The rich should help the poor.

    The British speak English.

  • with rivers, deserts, mountain ranges, and oceans


    We traveled across the Nile.

    Have you heard of the Rocky Mountains?

    The Mojave Desert is the driest desert in North America.

  • with ordinal numbers when they denote a unique ordering


    Veterans Day is the eleventh of November.

    Valentine's Day is the fourteenth of February.

  • with the names of certain public institutions and most newspapers


    I read the New York Times every day.

    Did you check the radio for the latest news?

    Mr. Mathews chose to stay at the Hilton Hotel.

  • with the names of famous buildings, monuments, etc.


    Who doesn't like to visit the Eiffel Tower?

    The Statue of Liberty is an official national monument.

  • with the names of families


    The Millers are currently abroad.

    The Smiths are eating outside tonight.

  • with countries that have plural names or names including the words "states", "kingdom", or "republic"


    Have you ever visited the Netherlands?

    April is from the Philippines.

    Kevin is from the United States of America.

  • with comparative adjectives and adverbs


    The harder you work, the easier it becomes for you to pass exams.

    The more affectionate we are toward children, the more respectful they are likely to be toward you.

When Do We Use the Zero Article?

Sometimes, it can be challenging for students to decide whether or not to use an article before a noun.

Here are some instances when we don't generally use an article.

  • with the names of people


    Mathew is both intelligent and hardworking.

    Shakespeare is my favorite author.

  • with the names of days, months, and holidays


    School starts on Monday.

    Aunt Hilary will be coming home for Christmas.

  • with plural nouns used is a general context


    Cats are adorable.

    Few people work as hard as teachers.

  • with abstract nouns and uncountable nouns that are used in general


    Life in New York is not what it was a decade ago.

    We have run out of milk.

    Students should practice punctuality at all times.

  • with words denoting unique jobs/professions


    Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861.

    Donald was elected chairman after the death of Benjamin.

  • with the names of restaurants ending in s


    We were dining at Smith's when you called.

  • with the names of lakes, continents, and mountains


    We have seen Lake Rabun.

    Lake Erie is one of the five great lakes in North America.

    Asia is the largest consent in the world.

    Have you visited Mount Rushmore?

  • with the names of meals


    Dad has breakfast at 8 o'clock.

    Who will prepare dinner today?

  • with certain prepositional phrases


    The teacher has asked us to learn the poem by heart.

    The situation is now beyond control.

    Jason has been in tears ever since his dog went missing.

  • with the names of sports


    My brothers play football very well.

    I practice soccer every morning.

  • with certain nouns that are only one of their kind


    Heaven and hell are the two important themes of the book.

  • with the names of streets, roads, avenues, etc. There are some exceptions though.


    Dad's office is on Bloor Street.

    Maria lives on Summerside Avenue.

  • with certain nouns when referring to their primary purpose


    Allen didn't go to school today.

    Daniel is due to appear in court again on Tuesday.

    Rose stayed in bed until 9 o'clock.

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