Articles in English Grammar
- When to use the indefinite article
- When to use the definite article
- When to use no article
- Online exercises to improve your English
- Lingolia Plus English
What is an article?
Articles are small words that come before nouns. In English, the articles are the and a/an.
Read on to learn about articles in English grammar then practise everything in the exercises.
Ms Smith is a businesswoman.
She is in a hotel room. There is a bed, a carpet and a bedside table in the room.
On the bedside table there is a lamp.
Ms Smith has two pieces of luggage: a suitcase and a handbag.
The suitcase is very heavy.
When to use the indefinite article
The indefinite article in English is a/an. We use the indefinite article:
- to talk about something unspecified
- Ms Smith is in a hotel room.
- to mention something in a text for the first time (introductory)
- There is a bed, a carpet and a bedside table.
- Ms Smith has two pieces of luggage: a suitcase and a handbag.
- in job titles
- Ms Smith is a businesswoman.
a vs. an
We use an instead of a before words that begin with a vowel or vowel sound or (e.g. silent h). This makes pronunciation easier.
- an apple (not: a apple)
- an hour (not: a hour)
The vowel u at the beginning of a word is sometimes pronounced [ʌ] and sometimes [ju].
When pronounced [ʌ], we use an. When pronounced [ju], we use a:
- an umbrella
- but: a university
When to use the definite article
The definite article in English is the. We use the definite article:
- to talk about something specific
- There is a bed, a carpet and a bedside table in the room.
- to refer back to something that we have already mentioned
- Ms Smith has two pieces of luggage: a suitcase and a handbag. The suitcase is very heavy.
- with superlatives
- This is the nicest hotel room ever.
- places around town
- Let’s go to the cinema tomorrow.
- The library is on Main Street.
Usually we pronounce the definite article [ðə].
If the following word begins with a vowel sound, however, we pronounce the definite article [ðı].
When to use no article
We generally don’t use an article for:
- plural nouns that refer to general people/things (but: for specific people/things we use an article)
- Businesswomen travel a lot.
- (but: The businesswomen that I know travel a lot.)
- Hotels are very expensive.
- (but: The hotels in this area are affordable.)
- the names of towns, streets, squares, parks
- Ms Smith is in Dublin. Her hotel is in Merrion Street between Fitzwilliam Square and Merrion Park.
- the names of countries (except for the Netherlands and those containing Kingdom, Republic, State, Union)
- Dublin is in Ireland.(but
- : Miami is in the USA./We go to the Netherlands every summer.)
- the names of continents and lakes
- Ireland is a country in Europe.
- Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world.
- the names of days and months (except when specified)
- She travelled to Ireland in May. She arrived on Monday.
- (but: She arrived on a rainy Monday.)
- with adverbs of time such as next/last
- She left last Monday and is coming back next Wednesday.
- The hotel serves breakfast between 8 and 10 o’clock.
- languages that a person knows
- Ms Smith speaks English.
- institutions such as school, university, hospital, prison (but not when we are talking about one particular school, university etc.)
- The children go to school.
- (but: Her son and my daughter go to the school at the end of the street.)
- in certain expressions with bed, class, home, work
- go to bed
- be in class
- after work
- come home
- materials (e.g. paper, wood, water, milk, iron), but only when generalising (if we’re talking about one particular thing, we have to use an article.)
- Paper is made of wood.
- We need to buy milk.
(but: Where is the paper for the printer?)
- abstract nouns i.e. things that you can’t touch, in a general context
- Life is complicated.
- What’s on TV today?
- (but: We never eat dinner in front of the TV.)
- expressions with play + sport (but not: play + musical instrument)
- He plays tennis.
- (but: She plays the piano.)
- titles and departments used with verbs like be, become, elect, appoint
- When was Barack Obama elected president?
- parts of the body or personal objects; instead, we use possessive determiners (my, your, …).
- I put my hand in my pocket.