Articles are small words used to show whether a noun they precede has a general or specific meaning. We use articles before most nouns.
There are three types of articles:
- Indefinite: ‘a/an’
- Definite: ‘the’
- Zero: no article
We use the indefinite article – ‘a/an’ – mostly with countable nouns to talk about general things. So, if the noun refers to one of many of its kind or is non-specific, we use the indefinite article.
- Mary is a teacher. (Profession in general meaning)
- Peter works in an office. (General type of workplace, not a specific office)
- Is there a school in your village? (School in general, not a particular school)
| Note: We use ‘a’ before words that begin with a consonant (with a few exceptions):|
– a tree, a ball, a pupil, a dog
We use ‘an’ before words that begin with a vowel or vowel sound:
– an apple, an engineer, an hour (vowel sound), an honour (vowel sound)
Indefinite Article Usage
Basically, we use ‘a/an’ in the following ways:
1) to talk about a general thing among many of its type:
- I’m planning to buy a car next month. (type and make of that car are not known)
- Jane would like to have a pet. (not specific)
- Is there a bank near here?
2) to talk about jobs and occupations:
- Mary is a student and Tom is a teacher.
- Shakespeare was a writer.
- When I grow up, I want to become a doctor.
3) with singular countable nouns to talk about only one person or one thing:
- Juliette has a brother.
- Do you want a piece of cake?
- A cat plays with a ball.
4) to talk about something for the first time:
- I bought a new pen for you, Charlie. Don’t forget to put the pen* into your school bag.
*When we mention the pen again, we use the definite article the.
5) in certain structures such as ‘this is/that is’, ‘there is/there was’, ‘such a/what a’:
- This is an important meeting.
- What a tasty cake!
- He is such a nice man.
Learn how to use the indefinite article. Check out this video!
Some/Any instead of Indefinite Article
In positive statements with plural nouns, use ‘some’ instead of ‘a/an’.
- There are some books on the shelf.
- I see some runners crossing the street.
In questions and negative statements with plural nouns that are non-specific, we use ‘any’ instead of ‘some’:
- Are there any cafes in your town?
- Are there any places of interest on this street?
- There aren’t any leaves left on the tree.
- On Mondays there aren’t any visitors in our museum.