The Indefinite Article

Articles are small words used to show whether a noun they precede has a general or specific meaning. We use articles before most nouns.

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There are three types of articles:

  1. Indefinite: ‘a/an
  2. Definite: ‘the
  3. 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.

See also:

The Definite Article

The Zero Article

Articles with Proper Nouns

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