Articles

The English language has the indefinite articles ("a/an") and definite article ("the") that play an important role in communicating the meaning of the whole sentence, paragraph, and essay. Articles appear before a noun or the combination of an adjective or adverb and a noun. Understanding the context in which a noun or noun phrase occurs will help you use articles correctly.

To choose an article, you should answer the following questions:

  1. Is the noun countable or uncountable?
  2. Is the noun singular or plural in form?
  3. Is the noun specific or nonspecific?

Countable Nouns

Use "a/an" when countable nouns are singular NOT plural.

Study these examples.

  1. There is desk in the room. (incorrect)
  2. There is a desk in the room. (correct)

"A desk" is a countable singular noun.

Uncountable Nouns

Do not use "a/an" when nouns are uncountable.

Study these examples.

  1. We had an fish for dinner yesterday. (incorrect)
  2. We had fish for dinner yesterday. (correct)

No article is used with the noun "fish" because it is uncountable.

Nonspecific Nouns

Use "a/an" when you don’t have a specific person, place, or thing in mind or when mentioning it for the first time.

Study these examples.

  1. We were excited to try new restaurant. (incorrect)
  2. We were excited to try a new restaurant. (correct)

"A new restaurant" is mentioned for the first time. The reader does not know about it yet.

  1. We bought a fish for dinner. (incorrect)
  2. We bought fish for dinner. (correct)

No article is used with the uncountable noun "fish" that is mentioned for the first time.

  1. A shoppers can get a great deal of information from window displays. (incorrect)
  2. Shoppers can get a great deal of information from window displays. (correct)

"Shoppers" is a plural countable noun that refers to shoppers in general not specific ones.

Specific Nouns

Use "the" when a noun is mentioned for the second time. Both the reader and the writer know the thing that the noun refers to because they share information about it.

Study these examples.

  1. We were excited to try a new restaurant, but restaurant we chose was terrible. (incorrect)
  2. We were excited to try a new restaurant, but the restaurant we chose was terrible. (correct)

A new restaurant was introduced earlier in the sentence.

  1. You should go to Ben’s Diner. Owners are really friendly, and a soup is delicious. (incorrect)
  2. You should go to Ben’s Diner. The owners are really friendly, and the soup is delicious. (correct)

The reader and the writer both know that "the owners" refer to the owner of Ben’s Diner, and "the soup" is served at Ben’s Diner.

  1. A Internet has changed the way people look for homes. (incorrect)
  2. The Internet has changed the way people look for homes. (correct)

There is only one Internet. It is unique.

Practice

Correct the following.

  1. When I write essay, I like to plan it first.
  2. I begin by choosing the topic.
  3. Then I write any ideas I have about topic.
  4. After that, I choose a best ideas and use them to write a thesis statement.
  5. Then I use thesis statement to create a outline.

References

Explanations and some examples are adapted with modifications from the following resources:

Daise, D., Norloff, C., & Carne, P. (2011). Q: Skills for success: Reading and writing. New York: Oxford University Press.

Meyers, A. (2014). Longman academic series, Level 5: Essays to research papers. New York: Pearson Education, Inc.