Article »

"A," "An," "The" - The Articles

This Grammar.com article is about "A," "An," "The" - The Articles — enjoy your reading!

At this point in our study of the eight parts of speech, it’s a good idea to discuss three little words we have a hard time classifying in the English language—the articles, a, an, and the.

They don’t constitute a separate part of speech. But because they’re associated with, and come before, nouns, they look and act a lot like adjectives.

But they don’t describe nouns, they don’t attribute qualities to the thing or person named by the noun, and they don’t have any comparative or superlative forms as other adjectives do. Instead, they identify nouns as nouns, defining the thing or person named as a general class or as a specific member of a larger class.

Definite and Indefinite Articles

We have two kinds of articles, the definite article the and the indefinite articles a and an. The words a and an actually descended from the number one. Igor got tired of grunting:

Pass me one tankard of bitters

So he started grunting:

Gimme a beer.

The indefinite article a was born.

And when he wanted a particular beer, Igor learned to grunt:

Gimme the beer.

The definite article the was born.

A and An, Indefinite Article

The indefinite article—the words a or an—always comes before a singular noun, never a plural noun. You might want to refer to a general group of things named by the particular noun. Thus, you refer indefinitely to a beer, an apple, or a political party in general without specifying which beer, which apple, or which political party.

The, Definite Article

If you’re thinking about a particular beer, apple, or political party, then you will refer instead to the beer, the apple, or the political party.

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.

Click page 2 below.

Omitting or Including Articles

When to Use Articles

Often you will generalize about plural nouns. When you do, the indefinite articles a and an are not available to show that you’re generalizing. So to show generality with plural nouns, you omit the definite article the. Thus, you’ll say that you enjoy books or that you prefer raisins, not apricots.

Omitting articles or including them often stumps those learning English as a second language. In my writing courses, these students will frequently put in unneeded articles and omit needed ones. Often, it is impossible to explain why sometimes the articles should not appear and sometimes they should. It takes an ear for the language, which can be developed only over time.

But to help out as best I can, I provide the following discussion for these international students:

Omitting Articles

Read this sentence:

John hung pictures on his office walls.

Now read this sentence:

John hung the pictures on his office walls.

Both are correct usage. But what is the difference in meaning? If you said, “John hung pictures on his office walls” to a friend, the friend would likely respond, “I bet his office looks better now.”

But if you said, “John hung the pictures on his office walls,” then either your friend would ask, “Which pictures?” or you know that your friend already knows which pictures you’re talking about.

When you say the pictures, you’re specifying a particular set of pictures, singling them out, and distinguishing them from all other pictures. But if you just say pictures, certainly it meansJohn hung specific pictures, but you don’t care, or don’t know, which ones they are. You’re much more interested in showing thatJohn did something about his ugly office.

This difference is very slight and often hard to understand.

Remember, the word the singles out and points to a specific one or specific ones. Leaving the article out produces a meaning of generalization, even if specific items had to satisfy that general situation (specific pictures).

Now notice that this article-dropping usually applies only to plural nouns. You would not say, John hung picture. Either you would say, John hung a picture to show you don’t care which one it was, or you would say, John hung the picture to show that you’re referring to a specific picture. The first statement (with a) says that John fixed up his office. The second statement (with the) says that John hung a specific picture on the wall, you care about which one, and your listener or reader also cares, or should care, about this particular picture you’re singling out.

Omitting with Singular Nouns

Sometimes, however, you can and should drop articles with singular nouns. Study these two statements:

He filed the lawsuit against his competitor in court. He filed the lawsuit against his competitor in the court.

In the first statement, the writer is saying, He sued the competitor. In the second, the writer is singling out a particular court and the reader is likely to ask, Which court?

The British drop articles before singular nouns denoting places or times more than we Americans do. The British would say:

He went to hospital.

Or:

In future, he will go to hospital.

Or:

In future, we will be at table in hospital.

Americans would say, He went to the hospital, or In the future, he will go to the hospital, or In the future, we will be at the table in the hospital. These are the same Americans, of course, who say, She went to school or He attends church. Go figure.

A, An, The, Grammar.

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.

 

Previous: Only One State, e.g., Unique Next: A vs. An - When to Use

Have a discussion about this article with the community:

Citation

Use the citation below to add this article to your bibliography:

Style:MLAChicagoAPA

""A," "An," "The" - The Articles." Grammar.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2017. Web. 22 Nov. 2017. <http://www.grammar.com/a-an-the-the-articles>.

Free Writing Tool:

Instant
Grammar Checker

Improve your grammar, vocabulary, and writing -- and it's FREE!


Improve your writing now:

Download Grammar eBooks

It’s now more important than ever to develop a powerful writing style. After all, most communication takes place in reports, emails, and instant messages.