Articles: A, An, The

Lesson 2. Articles "a", "an" and "the" in English: probably the biggest source of mistakes in speaking! Use this introductory lesson to test your knowledge and fluency in this important area of grammar.

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Articles - A, An, The - Exs 1 & 2
  PDF Exercise 1 & 2  |  Next video lesson 3 + exercises

Lesson Transcript

Hi, in this lesson with starting on articles. Now there are three types of articles in English.

'A' - that's one type - 'the' - and 'zero article'.

Now, before we begin I want you to remember one thing. Articles are the number one area for mistakes in English grammar.

Let me show you two examples.

– 'I'm student'
– 'She speaks a very good English'.

Now, both of these sentences are wrong. The first is wrong because we've forgotten an article here.

It should be: "I'm a student".
And the second sentence is wrong because we've added an article – here – where it's not necessary.

It should be 'she speaks very good English' without the 'a'.

Now, the good news is that articles are actually easy.

All we need to do is learn the rules and in this lesson, I'll ask you three questions to test your knowledge of articles.

So let's begin with question number one.  And the question is: what's the difference between 'a' and 'an'?

The answer is that 'a' goes before a word starting with a consonant whereas 'an' goes before a word starting with a vowel.   

Let's look at two examples for 'a':
'a car' and 'a red car'.

As you can see the words after 'a' begin with a consonant – 'c' for car and 'r' for red.

Let's now look at two examples for "an". 'An apple' and 'an orange car'. As you can see the words after 'an' start with a vowel. So 'a' for 'apple' and 'o' for orange.

Now, there's one more example I want to show you for "an" and that is "hour".

Now, as you can see, 'hour' starts with 'h' which is a consonant. However we use it with 'an' because the 'h' is silent when we pronounce it.

We say 'an hour' not and 'an Hour'.

Therefore we use 'an'.

So that's the difference between 'a' and  'an'.

Let's now move on to question number two. And this is what's the difference between 'a' / 'an' – that's one type – and 'the'?

For example, if I say to a friend: 'do you have an umbrella?' or 'do you have the umbrella?' – what's the difference?

Well, the answer is that if I say 'do you have AN umbrella?', I'm talking about an umbrella in general – whereas if I say 'do you have THE umbrella?' I'm talking about a particular umbrella which my friend knows about.

He knows which particular umbrella I'm talking about.

Two more examples:
'I need to see a doctor';
'I need to see the doctor' – what's the difference?

Well, with 'a doctor' I'm thinking about a doctor generally. It's not important which doctor I see.

Whereas if I say I need to see 'the doctor' I'm thinking about a particular doctor and the receptionist or the person I'm talking to knows which doctor I'm talking about.

So let's summarise what we have so far.

'A' or 'an' is for talking in general, and 'the' is the talking about something or someone in particular.

Now, there is a third type of article and that is zero article – and question number three is: what is zero article?

To answer that, let's look at some more example sentences.

What I would like you to do is find the zero articles in the sentences.

Well, the answer is that in sentence number 1, the zero article is <here>  
and in the second sentence it's <here>

And to answer the question here: what is zero article? Zero article is simply no article before the noun.

Let's look at some more example sentences:

'Cigarettes are bad for you' – <zero article>.
'I don't drink alcohol' – <zero article>.
'Love is all you need' – <zero article>.

Now, before we finish let me ask you one final question. That is, are these sentences general or particular?

So, are we talking about cigarettes – or alcohol – or love – in general or in particular?

Well, the answer is we're talking about them in general.

In fact we use zero article only for talking generally.

In that respect it's like 'a' or 'an' – not like 'the'. In fact using 'the' for talking generally is a common mistake. For example, 'the cigarettes are bad for you' or: 'I don't drink the alcohol' is wrong.  

So let's go back to our summary. 'A' or 'an'  is general. 'The' is particular.

Zero article we will put <here> because, like 'a' or 'an', it's general.

So that's the end of part one. Join me in part two for practice exercises on what we've learnt so far about articles.

Articles - next lesson + video exercises

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Nouns: Countables, Uncountables (1)
Articles (2)
(3) | (Zero Article 4) | The: Special Uses (5)
There is, there are (6)
Quantity: Some, Any (7) | Many, Much, A lot of (8) | A few, a little (9)
Prepositions of time: In, On, At (10)
The Present: Present Simple (11) | Present Continuous (12)
The Past: Past Simple (13) | Past Continuous (14) | Present Perfect (15)
Irregular Verbs (16)
The Future: Future Simple (17) | Future Plans (18)
Phrasal Verbs (19) (20)

     Countable and uncountable nouns 

     Countable and Uncountable
     Learn the two key rules

     "The": Special Uses
      "The": Special Uses
      10 special uses of 'the' here

     Phrasal Verbs - Part 1 

     Phrasal Verbs Part 1
     Each example with a picture

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