Skip to main content

Centre for Learning and Study Support (CLaSS): Grammar Toolkit/Articles

Enhancing academic practice, writing development and study skills

                          Proof Reading  for Grammar Toolkit

                                                                                                                                                                                     

    More online guides                                                                           ♦  Toolkit  Overview  ♦                                                                              Book an individual tutorial with CLaSS

Nouns 2

A/an, the, or no article

The article is used to show whether the reader is expected to be able to identify which instance of the noun is referred to.

The is used when the noun is known to the reader, therefore it can be identified from a larger group of similar items. A/an or no article is used in cases when no definite identification is expected. The tables below provide some basic rules to help you choose between a, an, the, and no article.

A. Choosing between a/an and the

B. Choosing between an and a:

 

Special cases

* In the word ‘MA’, the first letter is ‘m’, which does not normally note a vowel sound. However, when pronounced, the word ‘MA’ actually begins with an ‘e’ sound. For this category of words, an is used as for words starting with a vowel sound.

**In the word ‘university’, the first letter is ‘u’, which normally notes a vowel sound; however, when pronounced, it makes more of a ‘y’ sound (different from ‘u’ in umbrella, for example). For this category of words, a is used as for words starting with a consonant sound.

Tips

  • Read the words aloud to establish if they begin with a vowel sound.

  • Check pronunciation in a dictionary if not sure.

C. Cases when no article (_) is needed

Tip

Try to increase your sensitivity to what kind of ideas might be uncountable nouns.

Placing the article

The article attaches to the noun, but is not always next to the noun.

Numbers, adjectives and adverb-adjective pairs also attach to the noun, but go between the article and the noun:

the question scenario
  A possible answer
  _Broad terms
  The next paragraph
the spectacular effect
  _Indirect light
  _2,500 years
   a visible corona


If other determiners, such as this, that, his, hers, my, John’s, some are used, no other article is needed.

Words which replace the:

Demonstrative adjectives (words used to replace specific things or people that are known to the reader)

Possessive adjectives (words showing possession)

Numbers

E.g. three; a hundred; 2,500 etc.

 

Examples

This _literature review will critically appraise two _research studies. These _studies are highly relevant to _my research question.

Recognising a/an, the or no article

The basic skill of recognising nouns – those words that represent things– is essential here. A dictionary can help if you are unsure!

Example

The example below shows concrete and abstract nouns and their use of a/an, the or no article. Nouns are in bold; articles are shown in italic, and no article is indicated with _.

 

_Facebook is being used to exchange _information and _pictures in everyday _life. Many _people believe that it is a tool to enrich our _lives. However, from an educational perspective, the social media website can be seen as a distraction. This _essay examines whether using _Facebook lowers the concentration  of second year _students.

 

Explanation

You could use a similar technique to rigorously check for articles whilst proof reading your work.

Article checklist

Library Resources

Further resources

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

  • British Council: Brief explanation of English articles followed by short quizzes

  • Language and Learning Online (Monash University): More advanced tutorials on the use of articles, with practice

  • English for Uni (University of Adelaide): Detailed explanation of articles in video story and web format as well as practical activities

  • Advanced use of the definite article--some exceptions (University of Toronto)

Downloads

To download a PDF version of the Article checklist, click the link below.