Definition and Examples of Articles

Articles are members of the larger class of pronominal modifiers known as DETERMINERSOpens in new window.

Articles define “which?” noun is meant. English has two types of articles: definite (the) and indefinite (a, an.) “The” is a definite article referring to one noun. “A” and “an” are indefinite articles.

The use of these articles depends mainly on whether you are referring to any member of a group, or to a specific member.

Types of Articles and Designated Rules

1.   Indefinite Articles — The a, an and Its Rules

The indefinite articles a and an signal that the noun modified is indefinite, referring to any member of a group. In other words, they do not refer to a particular person or thing. They leave indefinite the person or thing talked about.

These indefinite articles are used with singular nouns when the noun is general; the corresponding indefinite quantity word some is used for plural general nouns.

Here comes the rules …

Again, a is used in the following senses:

If the noun is modified by an adjective, the choice between a and an depends on the initial sound of the adjective that immediately follows the article:

  • a broken egg
  • an unusual problem
  • a European country (sounds like “yer-o-pi-an,” i.e. begins with consonant “y” sound)

Note also that in English, the indefinite articles are used to indicate membership in a profession, nation, or religion.

  • I am a teacher.
  • Brian is an Irishman.
  • Kwame is an ordained clergyman.

Note also that a and an are used with words “few” and “little” if they refer to a small number or a small amount. Words “few” and “little” without the articles means almost none.

  • We have little time to spare. (means almost no time)
  • We have a little time to spare. (means some time)
  • Few persons were present at the meeting. (means almost no one was present)
  • A few persons were present at the meeting. (means some were present)

2.   Definite Articles — the and Its Rules

The definite article is used before singular and plural nouns when the noun is particular or specific. The signals that the noun is definite, that it refers to a particular member of a group.

But we never say “The William Shakespeare’s Macbeth”. The is not used when the name of a book is mentioned along with the author’s name. So, “William Shakespeare’s Macbeth” is correct.

Omission of Articles

While some nouns combine with one article or the other based on whether they are countable Opens in new window or uncountable Opens in new window, others simply never take either article.

Here Newton and Manchester is not used as a proper nounOpens in new window but a common nounOpens in new window. The first sentence means this man is as great as Newton and the second sentence means that Mumbai is a great manufacturing City like Manchester.

Here the article is used before the abstract noun as the abstract noun has been qualified by an adjective or adjectival clause.

This sentence means I am going to my child’s school for some particular purpose i.e., to deposit fee.

Here I mean that I have one cat that is partly black and partly white.

Here I mean that I have two cats one is black and the other white. Hence the rule is that when two or more adjectives qualify the same noun, the article is used before the first adjective only. But when they qualify different nouns, the article is used before each adjective separately.

Sentence (a) means that only one person is acting as president as well as chairman.

Sentence (b) means that two different persons are acting as the President and the Chairman and both the persons are absent.