Mastering articles: The, A, and An (Basic usage)
Written by Lilian Ndongmo, ESL Teacher.
A / AN
A and An are indefinite articles.
How are they used? Use A or An when you are talking about or referring to something or someone in a general sense. In other words, A / An can refer to any person or any thing.
For example: When you say A house, you are talking about any house: big, small, red, black, ugly, lovely, etc.
When are they used?
Use A before words that begin with a consonant sound.
Example: A chair, A book, A Telephone, A university, A painting
Use An before words that begin with a vowel sound
Example: An apple, An umbrella, An orange, An egg, An iron, An hour
Remember: If using A/An are with nouns, make sure that they are in the singular form only. A/An can never be used with plural nouns.
The is a definite article.
How is it used? Use The when you are talking about or referring to something or someone in a specific sense. In other words, The refers to a precise person or thing that both you and the person listening to you know about.
For example: When you say The house, you are talking about one specific house, and not any house.
When is it used?
Use The before singular or plural nouns.
Example: The house / houses, The university/ universities, The egg/ eggs
Some examples with A / AN / THE
- There is a book on the table. (general meaning)
The book on the table is black (specific meaning)
- A school can have many classrooms. (general meaning)
The school has many classrooms. (specific meaning)
- You can use an umbrella when it rains. (general meaning: any kind of umbrella)
You can use the umbrella when it rains. (specific umbrella)