definite articles in English
the larger category of words known as determiners
Unlike other common types of determiner (numbers
articles cannot stand alone. They must be
followed by a noun
The basic rules:
the rules for using articles in English are quite simple:
If a noun is used in a "defined" or restricted
context, a determiner is required – most commonly the definite article.
When a noun is used in a non-defined or "generalizing" context, in some
cases an indefinite
article is required, in others no article at all.
simple English is !!
There is only one
definite article, and that is "the";
the only difficulty is knowing when to use it, and when it is not
Before it is possible to choose the right article to place before a
noun, it is first necessary to determine the nature or category of the
noun that is being used.
As in other
languages, nouns in English can be
divided into two distinct categories, called: count
are nouns referring to items that can be counted, for
car, two pencils, three people,
four guitarists, five hotels etc.
These nouns can be used in the singular or the plural
In the singular,
be preceded by a determiner:
The dog is happy.
dog is happy, etc: but not:
is happy )
I'm reading my book
I'm reading the book ; but not: I'm
In the plural,
require a determiner,
depending on context.
are nouns referring to abstractions, substances or
health, money, heat, astronomy
In the singular,
The plural is even easier: non-count nouns can NOT usually be used in
QUESTION concerns plural count nouns:
Generalisation or not?
is not easy to decide if a plural
noun is being used as a generalization, or in a restrictive context :
the speaker or writer can choose. Look at these two sentences:
(a), the writer is clearly implying
a generalisation on the noun group
The tomatoes are red.
i.e. All tomatoes .
(b), he is referring to a restricted
or defined category of the noun:
i.e. the tomatoes here in front of us are red; but some other tomatoes
may be green or yellow .
like these, one therefore has a choice;
but the choice is not always completely free, as it often depends on context.
Is it more important or more logical to imply a generalization, or a
whether it is best to use an article
in such cases is a skill that has to be mastered!
1.2 Articles and quantifiers
Although articles are determiners, and the general rules is "A noun is only preceeded by one
determiner", there are cases where the definite article
can be preceeded by a secondary determiner in the form of a quantifier.
Some of the
more on this see : Numbers,
Quantifiers, Some and Any, Each and every, Both either and neither,
All and whole,
and other related pages
Both of the
children are very tired.
c) Three of the
machines were out of order.
English has two
indefinite articles, a
a is used before nouns starting
with a consonant
or a semivowel
an is used before nouns
with a phonetic
dog, a cat, an apple, an orange, an uncle,
university (because the word university
with phonetic [ju:], which is not a vowel).
Indefinite articles can only be used with count nouns. They are used
when a count noun in the singular refers
to a non-specified or non defined entity.
There's a train (= unspecified)
coming in 5 minutes. It's the train (= specified)
b) Look! I can see a hotel over there ! (=
a non-identified hotel) It's the hotel (=
specified) we're looking for !.
There is no
indefinite article in the plural. The word "some"
is occasionally said to be a plural indefinite article, but really it
is a quantifier (like
See dedicated page: Some and any
By definition, plural nouns referring to non-specified entities are generalisations,
therefore need no article.
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