A quick review of articles and how they are used in most general situations.
One of the biggest problems that Russian speakers have with the English language is those pernicious articles like a, an and the. In Russian or Kazakh or a lot of other languages, there is no equivalent. Even for French, Italian or Spanish speakers it can be confusing because unlike most Romance languages, in English we sometimes drop the articles.
So here’s a quick guide to the basic rules of articles!
A and An
First of all, an is used before words that have vowel sounds such as:
an elephant or an idea.
A is used before a consonant or a consonant sound, such as:
a telephone but also a university and a user. Why? Because the words user and university are pronounced yuser and yuiversity. That “yu” sound is a consonant sound.
A or An means one, and is only used with singular nouns. It is called the indefinite article because we use it when we are referring to any one thing in a category. For example:
I saw a man enter the store. I saw one man, about whom I know nothing.
We ate a pizza for dinner yesterday. A pizza because it doesn’t matter which one we ate.
I am a teacher. I am one of many teachers in the world.
He is an interesting guy. He is one interesting guy out of all the others.
This will make more sense when we contrast it with the definite article, the
Note that we cannot use a or an with uncountable nouns.
A intelligence is very important.
A garlic tastes good with spaghetti.
I value people with
a charity and kindness.
The versus A
The is used to refer to a specific thing. Maybe a thing I have just mentioned or one that we understand to already be in discussion. Or I may specify which one I mean. For example:
I broke the computer. We only have one computer at home, and I broke that specific computer.
I broke a computer. This could mean that I broke one computer out of many (say at a computer club).
I ate the pizza yesterday. You know which pizza I ate, the one we ordered last night and was sitting in the refrigerator!
We saw the man who wears that funny red hat at the store today. I am telling you which man we saw–you remember that man with the hat, right? It wasn’t just any man we saw. It was him.
Waiter, the soup is cold! This soup, right here in front of me!
I ate a soup from beer once. This is just one of many soups I have eaten in my life.
The is unique
So we use the to specify one specific thing. We also use it in front of things that are unique.
The President means the president of the country, because he or she is unique
The Earth We only have one planet
The Mississippi River there’s only one river named Mississippi in the world!
The financial report for 2006
Not using Articles
So that’s when we use articles. When do we not use articles?
Usually when we make general statements, we do not use articles. If the noun is countable, we use the plural form. If the noun is uncountable, we use the singular form.
Love is all you need.
Dogs are the most loyal animals in the world.
English is a weird language
Coffee is good with milk and sugar.
We don’t use articles with names of sports, academic subjects, languages or nationalities.
We also tend not to use it with names of countries (but we do say The United States and The United Kingdom!), cities, streets, islands or mountains.
Note that articles goes before adjectives:
An interesting child
A foolish idea
The clever dog
The long but boring novel
Those are the basics of article use. Hope it helps!