Use of Articles

Using Articles

Basically, an article is an adjective. Like adjectives, articles modify nouns. English has two articles:                                                              

  Definite article : The is used to refer to specific or particular nouns;                                                                                                                       

   Indefinite article:  A/An is used to modify non-specific or non-particular nouns.                                                                        

      the = definite article a/an = indefinite article                                                                  For example, if I say, “Let’s read the book,” I mean a specific book. If I say, “Let’s read a book,” I mean any book rather than a specific book.

Here’s another way to explain it: The is used to refer to a specific or particular member of a group. For example, “I just saw the most popular movie of the year.” There are many movies, but only one particular movie is the most popular. Therefore, we use the.

“A/an” is used to refer to a non-specific or non-particular member of the group. For example, “I would like to go see a movie.” Here, we’re not talking about a specific movie. We’re talking about any movie. There are many movies, and I want to see any movie. I don’t have a specific one in mind.

Let’s look at each kind of article a little more closely.

Indefinite Articles: a and an

“A” and “an” signal that the noun modified is indefinite, referring to any member of a group. For example:

  • “My daughter really wants a dog for Christmas.” This refers to any dog. We don’t know which dog because we haven’t found the dog yet.
  • “Somebody call a policeman!” This refers to any policeman. We don’t need a specific policeman; we need any policeman who is available.
  • “When I was at the zoo, I saw an elephant!” Here, we’re talking about a single, non-specific thing, in this case an elephant. There are probably several elephants at the zoo, but there’s only one we’re talking about here.


  1. Before a singular noun which is countable when it is mentioned for the first time and represents no particular person or thing.
    A horse is a noble animal.
  2. Before a singular countable noun which is used as an example of a class of things.
    A book is something you read.
  3. With a noun complement, including names of professions.
    She is a doctor, he became a famous actor.
  4. In certain numerical expressions.
    a dozen, a hundred, a million, a thousand etc.
  5. In expressions of price, speed, ratio.
    60 miles an hour, 4 hours a day, 30p a box, 3 times a day, 20 Rupees a K.g.
  6. With «few» and «little»
    a few people, a little sugar
  7. In exclamations before singular, countable nouns.                                                                                           What a pity! What a sunny day! What a lovely pen!
  8. It can be placed before Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms + surname.
    a Mr. Ali phoned today. A miss Alia, a Mrs. Ayesha etc.(showing unfamiliarity to)
  9. Before fractions:                                                                                                                                                                  ½ = a half ,1/3 =a third .a half share, a half portion      

Remember, using a or an depends on the sound that begins the next word. So…

  • a + singular noun beginning with a consonant: a boy; a car; a bike; a zoo; a dog
  • an + singular noun beginning with a vowel: an elephant; an egg; an apple; an idiot; an orphan
  • a + singular noun beginning with a consonant sound: a user (sounds like ‘yoo-zer,’ i.e. begins with a consonant ‘y’ sound, so ‘a’ is used); a university; a unicycle

If the noun is modified by an adjective, the choice between a and an depends on the initial sound of the adjective that immediately follows the article:

  • a broken egg
  • an unusual problem
  • a European country (sounds like ‘yer-o-pi-an,’ i.e. begins with consonant ‘y’ sound)

Remember, too, that in English, the indefinite articles are used to indicate membership in a group:

  • I am a teacher. (I am a member of a large group known as teachers.)
  • Brian is an Irishman. (Brian is a member of the people known as Irish.)
  • Seiko is a practicing Buddhist. (Seiko is a member of the group of people known as Buddhists.)

Not Use:

  1. Before plural nouns.
    Horses are noble animals.
  2. Before uncountable nouns
    Milk is good for you.
  3. Before abstract nouns.
    Fear is natural.
  4. Before names of meals except when preceded by an adjective.
    We had a late breakfast and decided to miss lunch.                                                                                              We have lunch at two.


Definite Article

The definite article is used before singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific or particular. The signals that the noun is definite, that it refers to a particular member of a group. For example:

“The dog that bit me ran away.” Here, we’re talking about a specific dog, the dog that bit me.

“I was happy to see the policeman who saved my cat!” Here, we’re talking about a particular policeman. Even if we don’t know the policeman’s name, it’s still a particular policeman because it is the one who saved the cat.

“I saw the elephant at the zoo.” Here, we’re talking about a specific noun. Probably there is only one elephant at the zoo.

Count and Noncount Nouns

The can be used with noncount nouns, or the article can be omitted entirely.

  • “I love to sail over the water” (some specific body of water) or “I love to sail over water” (any water).
  • “He spilled the milk all over the floor” (some specific milk, perhaps the milk you bought earlier that day) or “He spilled milk all over the floor” (any milk).

“A/an” can be used only with count nouns.

  • “I need a bottle of water.”
  • “I need a new glass of milk.”                                                                                                                                                                                                 Most of the time, you can’t say, “She wants a water,” unless you’re implying, say, a bottle of water.

Do use the before:

  1. Before the names of rivers, oceans and seas:                                                                                                              the Nile, the Pacific(behr-e –Alkahil),The Ravi , ,the Antartic Ocean(behr-e-manjmand junobi),the Talantic(behr-e-oqiayanos)
  2. Before the names of canals: e.g.                                                                                                                                 the Jhang Branch
  3. Before titles without names:                                                                                                                                         the Quaid, the captain,
  4. Before the names of newspapers: e.g.                                                                                                                                    the times ,the daily Jang , the Pakistan times, the Nation except Dawn, Reader digest
  5. Before the names of choirs, orcestres, pop groups etc.: e.g.                                                                               the Bach Choir ,the philadelphia Orchestra
  6. Before the names of ships:e.g.                                                                                                                             The great Britain, the Tipu sultan(a ship),
  7. Before the points on the globe:                                                                                                                                   theEquator, theNorth Pole
  8. Before the deserts, forests, gulfs or bays (khaleej) and peninsulas:                                                                            theSahara, thePersian Gulf, theBlack Forest, theIberian Peninsula
  9. Before names of mountain ranges: e.g.

                  The Himalayas, the Alps

  1. Before the names of directions: E.g.

      The east, the west, the north

  1. Before the names of musical instruments: e.g.

      The flute gives out touching music. The guitar, the drum, the piano etc.

  1. Before the name of an animal representing the whole class: e .g.

      The dog is a faithful animal.

  1. Before the names of things or objects which are unique in their nature:e.g.

       The sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the sea etc.

  1. Before the ordinal number: e.g.

                   The first, the second, the third etc-                      

  1. Before adjectives indicating a class of persons: e.g.

      The old, the poor, the brave

  1. Before the superlative degree:                                                                                                                                 the tallest boy
  2. Before the comparative degree of adjectives when the other noun or thing is mentioned or is understood: e.g.

      He is richer of the two.

      Of the two books, this the better.

18-Before nouns made definite by some phrase: e.g.

                    The boy in blue.  

        The place where I met him.

         19.Before the plural names of countries which comprise of many states:

       The U.S.A, the U.K., the  U.A.E

            20.Before names of proper nouns when used as a symbol of some quality of another person.e.g.

                   Aslam is the Shahid Afridi of our team.

         21.Before names of certain holy books: e.g.

                The Holy Quran, the Bible                   

         22.Before nouns which by situation are made definite: e.g.

               Dr. Bashir is in the clinic. (means his own clinic)

         23.Before the following nouns we use the:

The Government , The environment , the cinema , the theater , the ground ,the radio ,the police , the jury  ,the committee ,the country( side) ,the ozone layer, the weather ,the prime minister ,the president ,the earth ,the moon ,the sky ,the same, the whole, the community but not the society, the pope the Devil.

            24.Before two connected nouns referring to the same person who stands in two capacities; article is used with the first: e.g.

                  The Principle and owner of the school deals such cases. (One man with two capacities)

           25. Before two connected nouns referring to two different persons:

                  The cashier and the accountant are absent

           26-After both the + plural nouns and all the + plural nouns: e.g.

                   Both the boys, All the girls.

27. Before the nouns followed by of: e.g.  

      The chair of the boss has broken.

            28. Before two comparative degrees, related to each other either inversely or directly: e.g.

                  The faster we run, the sooner we reach.

29. Before a noun representing the whole class: e.g.

      The mango, the orange.

            30.Before adjective + proper noun: e.g.

                  The immortal Allama Iqbal,

                  The great Jinnah,

                  The noble Sattar Edhi,

                  The popular Qadeer Khan.                    

            31 Before the noun mentioned previously:

                  I bought a white horse .

                  The white horse was very strong.

                  A man is walking down a road.

                  There is a dog with the man.

                  We saw a good film last night.

                  It was the film you recommended.

            32-The second mention may be a synonym:

                  Combine butter, sugar and eggs. Add flour to the mixture.

33-Before abstract and material nouns when used in particular sense                                                                               e.g.The wisdom of Quaid-e- Azam is unmatchable.                                                                                    The gold of India is very popular.

            34-Before popular movements, places and wars: e.g

                  The Badshahi Mosque, The French Revolution, The First world War

            35-Before the religious sects and nations: e.g.

                  The Muslims, the Pakistanis,  

            36-Before particular Roads:

                  The Shahrah-i-Quaid-e-Azam, The Shahrah-i-Fatima Jinnah

            37-Before the names of provinces:

                   The Punjab ,The sindh

            38-Before title+name:  

                   The Quaid-e- Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah is our leader. (Incorrect)

                   Quaid-e- Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah is our leader. (Correct)   

            39- The + Plural surname=the ——family:

                   the Naeems = Mr. and Mrs. Naeem(and children)

            40-The + singular name +clause/phrase to distinguish one person from   another of the same name:

                  We have two Mr. Naeems. Which do you want? I want the Mr. Naeem   who signed this letter.

            41-Before titles +of: e.g.

                   The Duke of York, the landlord of the Sindh.

            42-Before two or more unmarried sisters to address jointly: The misses + surname

          The Misses Naeem. (means unmarried sisters of Naeem)                                                                         

           43-Before superlative degree  adverb + adverb of manner + word :

         The most kindly behaved brother.            

           44-Before means of transportation to refer to the whole transport         system, rather than to an individual vehicle:

       How long does it take on the bus?

          45- Before the names of museum and clubs, hotels, restaurants pubs:

      The plaza hotel, thecrown cinema, the Lahore museum, the

46- Before the names of decades, centuries and historic periods:

       The 1960s were a time of student rebellion.

          47-Before the nouns indicating political divisions:

       She is onthe left of the party.

Do not use the before:

1-Before the names of most countries/territoriesItaly, Mexico, Bolivia; however, the Netherlands, the Dominican ,  Republic, the Philippines, the United States ,the U.S.S.R                                                                                                                                                                 2Before the names of cities, towns, or statesLahore, Karachi, Narowal                                                                                                                                                                   3-Before the names of streetsWashington Blvd., Main St.                                                                                                                                    4-Before the names of lakes and bays:   Lake Titicaca, Lake Erie except with a group of lakes like the Great Lakes , Saif-ul-Maluk.                                                                                                                                                           5-Before the names of mountains indidividually:                                                                                                     Mount Everest, Mount Fuji except with ranges of mountains like the Andes or the Rockies or unusual names like the Matterhorn                                                                                                                                                  6-Before the names of continents :                                                                                                                                   (Asia, Europe)                                                                                                                                                                                                7-Before the names of islands individually:                                                                                                          (Easter Island, Maui, Key West,Sri lanka) except with island chains like the Aleutians, the Hebrides, or the Canary Islands.                                                                                                                                                                         8Before the names of colours:                                                                                                                                                   blue, yellow                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     9Before the names of Boards and universities :                                                                                                          Punjab University, Lahore Board                                                                                                                                                   10-Before the names of places or persons except as are shown above:                                                                Naeem , Saeed                                                                                                                                                                      11-Before abstract nouns except when they are used in particular sense:                                                        Men fear death .BUT, The death of Bai-Nazir Bhotto left her party without a leader.(particular sense)                                                                                                                                                                                    12-After possessive adjective:                                                                                                                                               It is my (blue ) book. = The (blue) book is mine.                                                                                                                                                                         13-Before the names of games:                                                                                                                                               He plays cricket.                                                                                                                                                                          14-Before the parts of the body and articles of clothing as these normally prefer a possessive adjective:                                                                                                                                                                            Raise your right hand.                                                                                                                                                                        He took off his shirt.                                                                                                                                         But notice the type of the sentences                                                                                                                              a.  She seized the child‘s collar.    =          She seized the child by the collar.                                                                                      b. I patted his shoulder.                  =          I patted him on the shoulder.                                                          Similarly in the passive:                                                                                                                                                                                  He was on the head =He was cut in the hand.                                                                                                                15Before man and woman to represent the whole human race:                                                                              Man is mortal. Women are expected to like babies.(Women in  general).                                                                   If the is used before women it means it is particular group of women.                                                                     16-Before regular meals:                                                                                                                                                   What time is dinner?                                                                                                                                                              I had my breakfast.                                                                                                                                                                         But we use a if adjective + breakfast/lunch/dinner:                                                                                                   We had a very nice lunch.(not very nice lunch                                                                                                                          17-Before noun + number :                                                                                                                                                                     The train stops at platform 5.(not the platform 5) ,similarly we say, Room 130(in a hotel) , page 20(of a book) ,section A , size 34(of shoes)                                                                                                                   18- Before a  noun or nouns preceded by:  this/that/these/those/some/any/each/every/no/none/my/min                                                                                       e.g., the red books/some red books/no red book/his red books/each red book                                                         19-Before names of relations:                                                                                                                                 Father, mother, uncle, aunt etc                                                                                                                                                   20-Before abstract  and material nouns or uncountable nouns  used in general sense:                  .Sugar, gold (material nouns), virtue, honesty ,wisdom ,love(abstract noun).                                                           21-Before a plural countable nouns used in general sense:e.g.                                                                                             Children play at cards.                                                                                                                                                                 22-Before a few unique words:                                                                                                                                                 Hell, Paradise, God, Heaven etc. except the Devil, the Pope.                                                                                                         23Before superlative degree adverb + adverb of manner (alone):                                                                                  He behaves most kindly.                                                                                                                                           But before superlative degree adverb + adverb of manner + word: The most kindly behaved brother.                                                                                                                                                                                   24-The is used in the following expressions:  In the morning, in the evening,

25-Before the names of languages:                                                                                                                                                  we speak Punjabi at home.                                                                                                                                                       I am studying English.       But the is used if the language comes after the name of language.                                                 I am studying the English Language.                                                                                                          

a- bed, school, church, college, university, hospital, prison, court: “the” is not used before the nouns listed above when they are visited or used for their primary purpose. We go

To bed to sleep or as invalids or resting To hospital as patients or doctors
To church to pray or as worshippers To masjid to pray
To court as litigants or witnesses. To school/college/university to study or as students
To prison as as a prisoner  


 When these places are visited or used for other reasons, the is necessary:

Activity(general) Object
He went to the church to pray.                     I went to the church to see the stained glass.
Ali was sent to prison for robbery. He goes to the prison sometimes to deliver lectures
He was in hospital for being injured. Naeem went to the hospital to visit Ali.
He was still in hospital.(as a patient) He was still at hospital.(as a visitor)                                       
I go to bed at 11 o’clock. Don’t jump on the bed.
She went to school for many years. The school was too small.
Many families eat dinner together. The dinner was delicious.
I shower before breakfast. The breakfast was delicious.
He has been working at General Hospital Lahore for two years. He’s been working in the hospital for two years. (if there is only one hospital in the town)
They are at church. The church is very old.
The student goes to school. (primary purpose) The mother goes to the school. (not primary purpose)


months, days of the week (indefinite) months, days of the week (definite)
The weekend is over on Monday morning.
July and August are the most popular months for holidays.
I always remember the Monday when I had an accident.
The August of 2001 was hot and dry.
public buildings, institutions, (indefinite) public buildings, institutions, (definite)
Ali doesn’t like school.
 Some people go to church on Sundays.
The school that Ali goes to is old.
 The round church in Narowal is famous.
To refer to a form of entertainment in general (definite):    I enjoy seeing the ballet. To refer to a particular event(indefinite):  I saw a good movie last night.
To refer to the whole transport system (definite):  How long does it take on the bus? The bus to Lahore leaves at 7.40. To refer to an individual vehicle: by + means of transport,” there is no article: I go by subway]. We go to school by bus.
General  words (indefinite) Life is too short.
I like flowers.
General words (definite) I’ve read a book on the life of Bill Clinton.
I like the flowers in your garden.

Omission of Articles:

Some common types of nouns that don’t take an article are:

  • Names of languages and nationalities: Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian
  • Names of sports: volleyball, hockey, baseball
  • Names of academic subjects: mathematics, biology, history, computer science

Author: readingi

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