English Grammar in Context – Tense Timelines, Mindmaps, Writing Tips, and More...
Articles are the little words we put in front of nouns so that we know which of those nouns we’re talking about, or whether we’re talking about any one of them, or even all of them.
The articles are:
The first two are called indefinite articles, and the third one is definite. A lot of words don’t take an article before them at all, so be careful!
When learning articles, you should imagine yourself either pointing at things while you talk about them; or turning away from them while you talk about them. ‘The’ is called the definite article because when you use it, you are referring to a specific noun. Imagine yourself at a table full of fruit. You could face the table and point at a specific apple you really want and say, ‘Give me the apple.’
‘A’ and ‘an’ are called indefinite articles because they don’t refer to a specific noun among others. You could turn away from the table full of fruit and say, ‘Give me an apple’, because you don’t care which apple. You’re not being specific.
In the first case, you are sure (definite), about which apple you want: the apple.
In the second case, you are not sure, (indefinite), about which apple you want: an apple.
A lot of English Learners have difficulty deciding which articles to use before nouns, because there are so many nouns and so many different types of nouns. There are also rules for choosing between ‘a’ and ‘an’, because of the sound of the first letter of a noun. We will cover all of these problems in this section, but before we move on to all of that, you have to know about two ways of thinking about and talking about nouns: Specific and Generic. When you want to choose between ‘the’ and ‘a/an’, choosing between Specific and Generic will lead you in the right direction almost all of the time. There are always exceptions, and you can see detailed diagrams throughout this section, but this is a general ‘rule of thumb’ for choosing between the articles. See more on the next page.