Definite & Indefinite Articles; `the,` `a` and `an`

Definite & Indefinite Articles; `the,` `a` and `an`

A Lesson by Enjoy

A basic reference for using the words `the,` `a` and `an.`


Lesson 01: Definite & Indefinite Articles; `the,` `a` and `an`
by Caleb `Enjoy` Boese

Hello everybody, and welcome to the first quick lesson I'll be writing for this course. Hopefully you'll find the lesson to be both comprehensive and concise, and that the information contained herein to be rather accurate. Before I bore you with an intro, let's get on with the lesson!

Articles are words that when placed with a noun, modify it. As such, they are adjectives. English has very few of these and they fall into two categories: definite and indefinite.

A definite article is a word that specifies a certain instance of a noun. In English, we have the word `the.` Notice that even in that very sentence I used it: I was specifying one word: the. In case you still find this confusing, here's a slew of examples:

- the car
- the road
- the house
- the Moon
- the Earth

As you can see, `the car` refers to a specific car, not just any old car. If it didn't, your parents would tell you "get in the car!" and you would be utterly lost as you pondered exactly which car to get in. Of course, unless you knew which car they were talking about [which hopefully you do] you might still be at a loss. Yet, what if you didn't want to specify? Well, that's where our next topic comes in:

An indefinite article is a word that comes before a noun when you are being nonspecific. The indefinite articles are `a` and `an.` Although saying something like "get in a car!" is a bit odd, something like "we should eat at a restaurant." makes a lot more sense. The difference between the two? They're the same, but for different spots: `a` comes before a noun that begins with a consonant, whereas `an` is used with nouns that begin with vowels. A list of examples:

- a car
- a road
- a house
- an orb
- an hour
- a university

Wait, what? Bring back those last two: they broke our rule. To jail with you!
Seriously, what's going on here? Well, they bend the rule because of their sound: hour has a silent `h,` and thus is treated as if it were beginning with a vowel, whereas university is the opposite: it sounds as if it begins with a `y,` thus we use `a.`

See? It's not so hard. This is just a scratching on the surface, but hopefully this basic level of grammar is something you've now committed to memory!

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Added on July 18, 2011
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Brandon, Manitoba, Canada

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