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The Definite and Indefinite Articles

Updated on November 30, 2015

Articles in the English Language

What is an article in the English language? An article is one of the numerous Parts of Speech in the English language.

The article refers to the words a, an and the. There are two types of articles and they are the definite and indefinite article. The definite article is made up of the word ‘the’ whereas the indefinite article is made up of the words ‘a’ and ‘an’.


What is the definite article?

The definite article is the word ‘the’ and it is used to point to a specific thing or things.

When do we use the definite article ‘the’?

We use ‘the’ when we are pointing to something or referring to something that was introduced earlier.

Example:

  1. I met a boy when I visited home last week. The boy told me that he knew about all my dark secrets.
  2. A man visited me last night and asked for a place to sleep. I did not know the man so I told him I could not help him.

We use ‘the’ when it is totally clear or obvious what we are referring to in a sentence. For example, the sun, the earth, the moon, the stars, the president, the wind etc.

Examples:

  1. Our headmaster said that he was fortunate to meet with the President last week.
  2. The Earth is gradually being destroyed as a result of global warming.
  3. The sun is shining quite brightly this morning.

We use the definite article ‘the’ before certain countries. These countries are normally countries that got their names from geographical elements or federal states. Examples include: the United States of America, the Congo, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands etc.

Example:

  1. I travelled to the Netherlands last year to conduct business.
  2. When are you going to the United Kingdom.
  3. The United States of America is a country where serious people can easily realize their dreams.

The definite article ‘the’ is used before adjectives that refer to a particular group of people or individuals.

Examples:

  1. The young are becoming quite infatuated with social media.
  2. The elderly are very vulnerable.
  3. I don’t think that the poor really care about what is going on.

‘The’ is also used before the plural of a surname or last name. Here, it can either refer to a married couple or a whole family. For examples, the Jacksons, the Clintons, the Obamas etc

Examples:

  1. The Jacksons will be coming over next week for dinner.
  2. The Obamas are quite a nice family.
  3. Whenever I am free, I visit the Clintons. They are a very nice couple.

Note: When forming the plural of a surname or last name, it imperative that you do not change the form of the name by adding things such as es or ies to the name. Just add an ‘s’ to the name and form the plural.



The indefinite article

What is the indefinite article? The indefinite article is made up of the words ‘a’ and ‘an’. The indefinite article does not point to a specific noun or nouns.

When do we use the indefinite article?

We use the indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘an’ in the following ways:

  • The indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘an’ are used with singular nouns. For example, a boy, a book, an orange, an egg, etc.
  • The indefinite article ‘a’ is used before words that begin in a consonant or consonant sound. For example, a book, a boy, a pen, a university, a classroom etc
  • The indefinite article ‘an’ is used before words that begin in a vowel or vowel sound. For example, an orange, an honor, an adapter, an egg, etc.
  • We use the indefinite article ‘a’ and ‘an’ when introducing singular nouns for the first time. For example: I met a boy in the garden.
  • ‘A’ and ‘an’ can be used to show a person’s nationality or a person’s religion. For example, an Englishman, a Nigerian, an American, an Australian, a Briton, a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist.
  • ‘A’ and ‘an’ can be used with the name of a person’s profession. Some examples include the following: a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist etc.
  • The indefinite article can also be used before the name of a person when the speaker does not know who the person is but knows his or her name. For example: Sir, there is a Mr. Collins looking for you.

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