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What are articles? We use articles to define, state or introduce the noun. The noun can be specific or unspecific. By definition; are any of a small set of words or affixes (such as a, an, and the) used with nouns to limit or give definiteness to the application. -Merriam Webster 

There are three different types of articles, they are; indefinite articles (a/an); the definite article (the); the zero article (no article). Down below, we’re going to take a closer look at all these articles and why they’re so important in English.

(1) The indefinite articles (a/an). These articles come in two different forms; ‘a’ for nouns beginning with a consonant and ‘an’ for nouns beginning with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u). We use indefinite articles to introduce something new, something unspecific, a noun that usually hasn’t been introduced. We do not use indefinite articles with non-countable nouns, only countable nouns.
Indefinite articles
  • A man came by today.
  • I would like an apple, please.
  • My colleague knows a guy who can sort it out.
  • A friend of mine visited.
(2) The definite article (the). We use this article when the thing has already been mentioned, or we assume the recipient knows what we’re talking about, it’s something that’s definite. Using the definite article also limits the noun to just one thing or one countable noun. We can use the definite article with singular, non-singular and plural nouns

Definite articles
  • What did you do with the letter I sent you?
  • The man living next door came over to our house.
  • What’s the problem? Are you OK?
  • The country needs to see some serious reforms.
  • Do you like the beach?
  • The clan was up to no good.

In all of these examples, the noun is already assumed to be known to the recipient/listener, either because it’s just general knowledge or it’s known to them personally.

(3) Zero article (no article). We don’t use an article in front of nouns when we’re talking about things in a general sense, something that could be a habit to us, or with nouns, both countable and non-countable that are already well assumed like; people, days, months, places, streets, languages, academic subjects, sports, and meals etc.
Zero article
  • I know exactly who Henry and Dorothy are.
  • Can we meet on Monday instead of Tuesday?
  • I was born in July.
  • They live in Beijing, China.
  • My friends come from Moscow.
  • The street is called Wall Street, it’s the main financial area in New York.
  • Can she speak Korean? No, but she does speak Russian very well.
  • Benjamin is studying history and art at university. He really doesn’t like math.
  • Rugby is not my favourite game. I prefer basketball.
  • What did you have for lunch today?
  • Did you like eating breakfast?
(4) In all the above examples, the nouns are NOT preceded by an article for the reasons cited above (people, days, months, places, streets, languages, academic subjects, sports, and meals), and for the mere fact that they are being used in general (in this specific context). This doesn’t mean you should always use zero or no article with these nouns, it depends on the context and also if they are used as adjectives, then you would need to use an article. For example: 
  • David loves eating lunch at twelve o’clock.
  • David enjoyed a good lunch today.
  • I speak Chinese.
  • I have an excellent Chinese teacher.
  • She lives in Moscow.
  • The Moscow I knew just isn’t the same any more.

Essential English Grammar – A Friendly Approach

Lesson #8: Articles

Indefinite articles: a/an

We use indefinite articles (a/an) to introduce the subject or object, and generally for the first time. An goes before vowels; a, e, i, o, u, and a goes before consonants (any letter that’s NOT a vowel (a, e, i, o, u).

  • My name is Maria and I work as a nurse1 in a When I was a child I always wanted to be a lawyer, but I became bored with all the legal work. What about you? What do you do for a living?
  • Well, I’m a full-time chef. I work in a restaurant near the main square in the city centre. I’ve got a great deal of passion for cooking, and ever since I was younger I always wanted to be a
  • That’s so amazing, what sort of meals do you generally cook?
  • I cook Spanish cuisine, meals like paella, bocadillos, etc. My clients say I’m an excellent2 chef!
  • So glad to hear. Anyhow, I’ll catch you later3.
  • Bye. 
  1. We use the here because the person asking the question already knew about a project.
  2. A software company: we use the indefinite article a because we’re introducing software company, which is the object here for the first time.
  3. Company: was already introduced, so now the definite article can be used.
  4. It’s already assumed that one must work, so we use the definite article the here.
  5. English tutorial series: is being introduced for the first time, so we use the indefinite article an. Also note, English starts with a vowel (e), so we must use an and not a.

Zero article: (-)

In English, we don’t use an article when we’re talking about things in a general sense. For example, habitual actions or general truths. Moreover, we generally omit articles when talking about people, days, months, places, streets, languages, academic subjects, sports and meals

  • My name is Thomas1 and I’m from New Zealand2. I was born in July3 and I speak two languages, English and Spanish4. I’m currently living in Madrid, Spain. I really love the Spanish cuisine and culture. My favourite meal is Paella5 and bocadillos filled with chorizo. Tell me about yourself?
  • I’m Sarah and I’m from London, England. I speak English and Korean. My parents are originally from South Korea and I grew up here in England. I love Football6 and hockey, as well as cricket even though some people say it’s a little boring. Obviously, my favourite meal is chicken roast, a very typical dish from the United Kingdom.
  1. Thomas: is a name and doesn’t require any article, thus zero article.
  2. Countries: don’t usually require an article beforehand.
  3. Months: don’t usually require an article beforehand.
  4. Languages: don’t usually require an article beforehand.
  5. Famous meals such as paella or chicken roast, or just meals in general, usually don’t take an article.
  6. Most sports don’t take articles, just like most things, when a general sense is applied, no need for any articles.

Section Review

Articles: Indefinite articles (a/an), definite article (the) and zero article (-)

  • Hey Dale, how’s everything going?
  • Fine, thanks. I’m just walking to campus.
  • So, what are you studying these days?
  • Well, um, I’m currently doing my undergrad. I’m studying literature and contemporary history. I really like it. What about you?
  • I’m doing my master thesis right now. It’s a lot of work, but I really like the work a lot.
  • Tell me about your master thesis.
  • I only just started, I really enjoy the How’s the undergrad in literature and history, do you like it?
  • Yes, quite a lot. I have two professors per subject, and they know their subjects very extensively. The professors have been at the university, and have been teaching for over twenty years, so they have a tonne of experience.
  • Yes, I understand, teaching experience is so important for students.

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