Articles - The / A / An

There are only three articles in the English language: a, an and the.

Their actual use is a complex one especially when you get into the advanced use of English. Quite often you have to work by what sounds right, which can be frustrating for a learner.

We usually use no article to talk about things in general - the doesn't mean all.

For example:

"Books are expensive." = (All books are expensive.)

"The books are expensive." = (Not all books are expensive, just the ones I'm talking about.)

A and an

A and an are the indefinite articles. They refer to something not specifically known to the person you are communicating with.

You use a when the noun you are referring to begins with a consonant.

You use an when the noun you are referring to begins with a vowel.

For example:

"I saw an elephant at the zoo."

"I ate a banana for lunch."


You use the when you know that the listener knows or can work out what particular person/thing you are talking about.

For example:

"The apple you ate was rotten."

"Did you lock the car?"

You should also use the when you have already mentioned the thing you are talking about.

For example:

"She's got two children; a girl and a boy. The girl's eight and the boy's fourteen."

We also use the when we know there is only one of a particular thing.

For example:

the sun, the wind, the world, the North Pole etc..

However if you want to describe a particular instance of these you should use a/an.

For example:

"I could hear the wind." / "There's a cold wind blowing."

"What are your plans for the future?" / "She has a promising future ahead of her."

Do you want to know more about the use of English grammar? Read our recommended grammar books section.