Why do we always confuse, or forget all together articles? It seems most English learners need to go back and study the basic rules of when, which and why we use articles, whether they be; indefinite, definite or zero article. Let’s try to get to the bottom of this.
What are articles? We use articles to define, state or introduce the noun. The noun can be specific or unspecific. 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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 (red) is already assumed to be known to the recipient/listener, either because it’s just general knowledge or it’s known to them personally.
- 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.
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?
- 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 anymore.