The Article – “The”, or “A”, or “An”

Indefinite and Definite Articles and No Articles

 

Are you confused when to use the definite article “the”, the indefinite article “a” or “an” and when you should not use any article? Keep in mind, an article modifies a noun. The article “the” refers to a specific noun, known by the writer or speaker and by the reader or listener. The indefinite article “a” or “an” refers to a general noun, known by the writer or speaker, but not by the reader or listener.

The following rules should remove much of the confusion, if you remember them.

Use of the indefinite articles “a” and “an”.

The first time you mention something either in writing or in speech you should use “a” or “an”. Once it has been introduced, and both you and your reader know what is being talked about, you will refer back to it using the definite article “the.”

In the following example, we mention a restaurant, but after it has been introduced it is referred to using “the.”

  • “There is a new restaurant around the corner”.
  • .The restaurant sells pizza”.

You use “a” when the word following it begins with a consonant sound, and you use “an” when the word following it begins with a vowel sound. Note that I am saying a consonant sound and a vowel sound.

Be careful, sometimes a word starting with a consonant actually starts with a vowel sound and sometimes a word starting with a vowel actually starts with a consonant sound.

    • Some words including; honour, honourable, honorary, hour, x ray begin with a consonant but actually start with a vowel sound.
  • “It is an honour to meet you.”
  • “He is an honest man.”

Some words including European or uniform begin with a vowel but actually start with a consonant sound.

  • “I bought a European car last week.”

When using articles to describe places, this gets a bit more complicated, however, remember the rules and you should be ok.

Do Not Use an Article

Do not use an article when referring to streets, roads, avenues, etc.

  • My favourite store is on Bloor St.

Do not use an article when referring to cities or towns.

  • I live in Toronto, but I would like to visit my friends in Montreal.
Do not use an article when referring to provinces or states.
  • Toronto is in Ontario.
  • Texas is warm this time of year.
  • I love to spend my winters in Florida.

Do not use an article when referring to countries.

  • This summer I want to visit Australia and China.

However, when referring to countries that have names in the plural or are kingdoms or republics you do use the definite article.

  • Florida is in the United States.
  • London is in the United Kingdom.
  • I have never been to the Czech Republic.
Some of the other places that would be included in this list are the USSR (but not Russia), the Netherlands, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates.

Do not use an article when referring to islands, except, when referring to chains of islands.

  • Next year I am planning to go to Jamaica, Japan and the Canary Islands.
Do not use an article when referring to continents.
  •  Mexico, Canada and the United States are in North America.