English articles A, AN and THE with countable nouns | DailyStep English

English articles A, AN and THE with countable nouns

 

Hello, I'm Jane at DailyStep English and welcome to my Audio Blog!

This week I'll explain how to use the articles A, AN and THE with countable nouns. There are also some free audio descriptions of all the topics in next week's DailyStep audio lessons. If you are new to DailyStep English, please register for 5 free audio lessons and to be on my mailing list.

How to use English Articles (part 1)

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So many of you have emailed asking me to explain how to use English articles. I know that they cause a lot of confusion, especially if your own language does not use articles at all! There is too much to explain in just one audio blog, so in one of my future blogs on DailyStep.com, I’ll continue this subject.

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There are 3 articles in English: AAN and THE. Sometimes, we do not use an article at all.

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The indefinite articles are a and an, and we only use them with countable nouns. Please take a look at my audio blog on countable nouns if you have not seen it already.

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The definite article is the. We use it with both countable nouns and uncountable nouns.

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In this audio word study from DailyStep.com, we are going to look at how to use articles with countable nouns.

 

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1. Articles with singular countable nouns

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With singular countable nouns, we need to use an article.

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We use the indefinite articles a and an when we are not talking about a specific thing, and we often use them when mention something for the first time in conversation.

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Examples:

1. I would like to buy a car. (note: this means I have not decided which car to buy yet.)
 

2. There is a book in my bag. (note: this is the first time the book has been mentioned.)
 

3. A strange thing happened to me yesterday. (note: I am talking about this strange thing for the first time.)
 

4. I am an English teacher. (note: we always use ‘a’ or ‘an’ before the name of a job.)

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A or AN?

We use an before a noun that begins with a vowel sound. Vowels in English are A, E, I, O, U. But be careful, because some words have a vowel sound but not a vowel spelling.

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Examples:

An hour                An honest man. (note: here, the letter H is silent, so the words start with a vowel sound.)
A university          A united force.  (note: here, the letter U is pronounced YOU, so it has a consonant sound Y sound at the beginning.)
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So, now we have looked at how to use indefinite articles with singular uncountable nouns, let’s look at how to use definite articles.

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We use the definite articlethe, with singular countable nouns when we are talking about a specific thing.

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Examples:

1. The book on the table is mine. (note: in this sentence, we say ‘the book’ because we are talking about a particular book. We know which book it is. We say ‘the table’ because we know which table it is.)

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2. The man in the blue shirt is my brother. (note: in this sentence, we say ‘the man’, not ‘a man’, because we are talking about a particular man, and we say ‘the blue shirt’ because we know which blue shirt we are talking about.)

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3. The sun is very hot today. (notewe say ‘the sun’ because there is only one sun near our planet!)

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4. The Eiffel Tower is in Paris (note: we say ‘The Eiffel Tower’ because there is only one Eiffel Tower.)

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Here are some more examples:

5. Could you pass me a pencil, please? (notethis means ‘Could you pass me any pencil, please?’.)
 

6.  Could you pass me the pencil, please? (note: this means ‘Could you pass me the pencil that we can both see, please?’.)

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7. Do you have a car? (note:  in this  sentence, we just mean ‘a car in general’.)
 

8. Where shall I park the car? (note:  in this  sentence, we know which car we are talking about. It is the one that I am driving!)

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You can see in this next passage how indefinite articles (a or an) are used the first time we talk about something (below, these are in purple font), but definite article (the) is used when we mention things for the second time (below, these are in blue font).

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There is a book in my bag. The book is a detective storyThe story is about a detective The detective is called Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes has an assistantThe assistant is called Doctor Watson. They are trying to solve a crimeThe crime that they are trying to solve isa murderThe murder was committed on a dark and stormy night. The night was New Year’s Eve, 1921.

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Try to remember this passage. It will help you to understand which article to use!

 

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2. Articles with plural countable nouns

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With plural countable nouns, if we are not talking about specific nouns, or if we are speaking in a general sense, we do not use an article.

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Examples:

1. Children love playing games. (note: this means ‘All children love playing games’.)

2. Trees need water. (note: this means ‘All trees need water’.)

3. I love watching films. (note: this means ‘I love watching films in general’.)

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If we refer to plural countable nouns in a specific sense, we use the definite article (the). The rule here is the same as it was above, for singular countable nouns.

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Examples:

4. The children in the park are playing a game. (notehere, we are talking about a specific group of children.)

5. The trees in this picture are  oak trees. (notehere, we are referring to particular trees. We know which trees we are talking about.)

6. The films that I enjoy watching the most are comedies and thrillers. (notehere, we are not talking about all films, only about the ones that I enjoy the most.)

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So, that’s all for today’s word study! I will teach you how to use articles with uncountable nouns in a future audio blog!

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