Definite article: the
The is the definite article. It is used before a noun to refer to a specific one.
- Can you please hand me the green towel? (I only want the green towel.)
- I want the cherry pie. (I want a specific pie.)
- She wants the apple. (I want the specific apple you are holding.)
- I like the elephants at the zoo. (I like those elephants at that zoo.)
Indefinite articles: a/an
A and an are indefinite articles. They are used before nouns to refer to something in general.
A is used before words that start with a consonant.
An is used before words that start with a vowel.
- Can you please hand me a towel? (It doesn't matter which towel.)
- I want a pie. (I don't care what type of pie.)
- She wants an apple. (She doesn't care which apple.)
- I like an elephant at a zoo. (I don't care which zoo. I am not talking about a specific elephant.)
So how do you know when to use each one?
1) Use A or An when
- you mention something for the first time.
- I need a volunteer.
- We have a winner!
- Do you have an eraser?
- you want to say something belongs to a certain group or category.
- That is a horse.
- Brownie is a dog.
- That is an electric car.
- you want to say that someone belongs to a certain group.
- Stacy is a girl.
- He is a student at that high school.
- Mr. Jones is an electrician.
- you want to say that something is "that kind of thing."
- It is a pretty flower.
- The table is a strong table.
- It was an early morning.
- you want to say that someone is "that kind of person."
- He is a smart teacher.
- She is an attractive woman.
- You are a special friend.
2) Use the when
- you talk about a specific thing.
- Did you find the keys to my car?
- I bought the red bicycle at the bicycle store.
- The sound I heard was loud!
- it is clear which thing you are talking about.
- She brought the cake!
- I love the rain.
- It was the dog!
- there is only one such thing.
- The moon is bright tonight.
- I love to visit the Atlantic ocean.
- She is the English teacher.
3) Do not use an article when
- you talk about something general.
- Incorrect: The monkeys are the funny animals!
- Correct: Monkeys are funny animals!
- Incorrect: Learning the English can be difficult.
- Correct: Learning English can be difficult.
- Incorrect: The dogs are a man's best friend.
- Correct: Dogs are man's best friend.
- you talk about cities, countries, streets, people, etc.
- Incorrect: She moved from the Kansas.
- Correct: She moved from Kansas.
- Incorrect: I visited the Mrs. Smith.
- Correct: I visited Mrs. Smith.
- Incorrect: We live on the Main Street.
- Correct: We live on Main Street.