7 Steps to Learning Articles (a, an, and the)
Whether a beginner or advanced, misusing articles is one of the most common mistakes my students make. Articles often don’t exist in other languages, so when a learner translates directly from their language to English they almost always forget to add an article. However learning how to use articles is fairly simple and can be mastered quickly with a little practice and knowledge of the rules. Here are a few simple steps that I often share with my students.
Step 1 – Understanding counting nouns.
A counting noun is simply a noun that you can count or have more than one of. For example 2 apples, three cups, 4 pens, 1 dog. If you can have more than one of something it’s a counting noun and it needs an article in front of it. If you can’t have more than one then it’s an uncountable noun. Can you have 3 furnitures? No. Furniture is not countable.
Step 2– When “a” or “an” go in front of countable nouns.
If the noun is countable and you only have one of it then you need to put “a” or “an” in front of it. Think of it as saying how many you have.
Correct- I read a book. Incorrect – I read book.
Correct- We’re getting a dog today. Incorrect- We’re getting dog today.
Step 3 – When to use “an”
We only use “an” when the next word starts with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u). Otherwise we use “an” under the same circumstance that we would use “a”.
Correct- I’m getting an iphone. Incorrect- I’m getting a ipone. I’m getting iphone
Correct- I would like an apple. Incorrect- I would like a apple. I would like apple.
Step 4– When to use “the”
We use “the” when we’re talking about something specific, obvious, or something the people in the conversation already know about.
Talking about something specific-
This is when you are only referring to one particular thing.
For example. I will see you at the football game. This refers to a game that both people in the conversation already know about.
I will see you at a football game. This refers to any football game.
I’m going into the building. This refers to a particular building.
I’m going into a building. This refers to a general, non specific building.
We will often start a conversation using “a”, and then switch to “the” as the subject becomes familiar.
I took a train to New York. The train was late.
I saw a man wearing that coat. The man went down the street.
Step 5– Don’t use “a” or “an” with plural nouns.
“A” and “an” are only used with singular nouns, or when you only have one of something.
Correct- I have 2 apples. I have apples. Incorrect- I have 2 an apples. I have an apples.
Correct- I have 3 bowls. I have bowls. Incorrect- I have 3 an bowls. I made an bowls.
Step 6- Don’t use “A” or “an” with uncountable nouns
Music, luggage, power, money, water…these are examples of uncountable nouns. Remember a countable noun is a noun that you can have more than one of. Therefore something you can’t have more than one of is an uncountable noun. You cannot have two musics, 3 luggages, 5 powers, 7 monies, or 8 waters. Therefore we do not put “a” or “an” in front of them.
The rules for “the” still apply. You can put “the” in front of these words if you are talking about something specific.
Correct – Please hand me the water. Incorrect- Please hand me a water.
Correct- Grab the luggage. Incorrect- Grab a luggage.
Correct- Is the power on? Incorrect- Is a power on?
Step 7- If a noun is plural it does not need “a” or “an”, but you can still use “the”
“A” and “an” are only used with singular counting nouns. Never use them with a plural countable noun. However, you can use “the” with plural countable nouns.
Correct – I have the cups. Incorrect- I have a cups.
Correct- I have the bottles. Incorrect- I have a bottles.
Ready to put this into practice.
Which of these nouns are countable? Decide if they should have an article or not. Challenge yourself to create a sentence using these nouns. Good Luck.
spoon, milk, information, suitcase, electricity, bag, fan, pizza, advice, trash