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Definite and Indefinite Articles in English | Page 1/2

Learn how to use definite and indefinite articles in English: the, a, and an. This lesson is designed for basic English-language learners. Exercises included.

Related Topic: Also see Pronunciation of the articles.

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There are only three articles in English: “the,” “a,” and “and.” These very short words, but they can change the meaning of a sentence when you use them.

If your language has definite articles, indefinite article, or both you understand what they do. The problem is that there may be very different rules in English and in other languages.

There are some rules telling you when to use definite or indefinite articles, but the best way to get it right is to “get a feel for it.”

What are Articles?

English has three articles: “the” (definite article) and “a” or “an” (indefinite article). Articles are used before nouns (for example, the building, a child, an elephant.

As a general rule, you use the definite article ( “the”) when you know the noun refers to something specific or defined. You use the indefinite article (or no article) when the noun refers to something in general or something that is not defined.

Perhaps the best way to understand the difference in how to use the definite indefinite article is to look at an example.

Examine the following dialog between John and Kate:

John: — I’m hungry. Do you have something to eat?

Kate: — Yes. I have an apple and a banana. Which would you like?

John: — I’d like the apple.

In the second sentence, Kate is talking about an apple and a banana that is not specific; they are just some fruit that she has. That is why she used the indefinite articles “a” and “an.”

In the last sentence, John is talking about a specific apple. It is not just some apple; it is the apple that Kate said she has.

Let's look at another example.

Notice how the articles change from “a” (to talk about something that was not mentioned before) to “the” (to talk about the same thing after it was identified or specified):

Let me show you a picture. Can you see it? It is below this paragraph. In the picture, you can see a cat and a dog.

The cat is on the left side of the picture. The dog is on the right.

Other Rules

This are the basic differences between definite and indefinite articles. There are many other rules.

To learn more, go to the next page...

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