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Definite, Indefinite and No Article

The Indefinite Article – A / AN

We use A/AN with:

1. Singular nouns and the first time we refer to a person, animal or thing.

  • a child
  • an elephant
  • a television

2. We don't use A/AN with possessive pronouns, demonstratives or cardinal numbers.

  • My shirt is dirty.
  • This car is expensive.
  • One person is in the reception.

3. We use ONE (or more) instead of A/AN when the number is important.

  • There is only one exit from the airport.

What is the difference between A and AN?

A is used when the next word begins with a consonant sound (b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k etc).

  • a book
  • a table
  • a clock
  • a university (because the beginning of university sounds like YOU-niversity)

AN is used when the next word begins with a vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u).

  • an apple
  • an elephant
  • an umbrella
  • an hour (because the H is silent)

Try our game to practice the difference between A and AN.


The Definite Article – THE

We use THE with:

1. A singular or plural noun when it is clear/obvious which person or thing we are talking about.

  • There is a lamp in my bedroom. (we mention the lamp for the first time)
  • The lamp is next to the desk.

2. Anything which we identify immediately.

  • We watched the new Brad Pitt movie last night.

3. Musical instruments (the violin, the guitar, the drums, the flute, the piccolo).

  • She plays the piano.

4. Something that is unique or there is only one.

  • the sun
  • the moon
  • the internet.

5. Names of rivers, seas, oceans, mountain ranges and deserts (always in capitals).

  • The Mississippi River
  • The Black Sea
  • The Andes
  • The Sahara Desert

6. Directions (cardinal points).

  • the west
  • the south-east
  • the north-west.

No Article

We use no article with:

1. When we refer to general ideas, plurals or uncountable nouns we do not use THE.

  • Religion is an important issue. (NOT The religion is an important issue)
  • Mexican food is spicy. (NOT The Mexican food is spicy).

2. Names of people, books and plays (unless it is part of the title).

  • I have read Romeo and Juliet.

3. Towns, cities, states and countries.

  • Cape Town
  • Montana
  • Vietnam

(Exceptions – The USA, The UK, The Netherlands, The Czech Republic, The Philippines).

4. Lakes, single islands, continents or mountains.

  • Lake Victoria
  • Jamaica
  • Asia
  • Mt Fuji

5. Planets

  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn

6. Sports or games

  • soccer
  • tennis
  • skiing
  • monopoly

7. Meals

  • breakfast
  • lunch
  • dinner
  • supper



Next activity

Try our interactive game to practice the difference between A and AN.

Learn about the difference between Some, Any, A and An


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Last Updated: 02 June 2014
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