Articles: Definite and Indefinite, using a, an, and the

Indefinite and definite articles: A, an, the


This post looks at when we use a, an and the. We call A and AN ‘indefinite articles’ because they describe something that is not definite; not specific.  They are used to describe a general thing not a particular thing. THE is a ‘definite article’.  Therefore, listener and speaker both know which thing the speaker is talking about.

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Indefinite Articles: Using A and An

We use a or an to talk about singular countable nouns (one noun that you can count), for example:

A dog, a hospital, a thought, a letter, a dream, a neighbour, a wedding, a house,

An idea, an apple, an egg, an actor, an offer, an elephant etc

‘I saw a beautiful sports car today.’

‘He used to live in a flat in the city centre.’

‘I had an egg for breakfast.’


When to use ‘a’ and when to use ‘an’


We usually use ‘a’ with words that start with a consonant.

A house

A message

A green car

A banana

Usually, we use ‘an’ if the next word starts with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u). 


An egg

An orange coat

An easy exam

An apple


However, there are some exceptions.  It depends on SOUND of the first letter of the word. If the word starts with a consonant sound as in ‘you, young, yellow, one’ it takes ‘a’

A European

A once-in-a-lifetime offer


If the following word starts with a silent consonant, use ‘an’

An honour


We also use ‘a’ and ‘an’ to talk about ‘per’ meaning each individual thing.


‘He earned £20 an hour working for the government.’

‘Dinner will cost £15 a head.’

Definite articles: using THE

We use ‘the’ to talk about a specific thing.  The listener understands which thing the speaker is talking about, for example:


‘Are you going to take the dog for a walk later?’

‘The car needs cleaning.’

‘I haven’t read the book.’


Definite articles: Using THE with places


Articles are not used with countries, places, lakes or mountains unless it is part of a group, for example:


‘We went skiing in the Alps last year.’

‘I have never been to the United States.’

‘The Lake District in England is very pretty.’

However, we do use THE with bodies of water:

‘The English Channel lies between England and France.’

‘The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth.’

We use THE with names of geographic regions,

The Middle East, the Southern Hemisphere, the North Pole, the Sahara Desert

Also with museums, famous buildings, works of art, hotels, institutes (not colleges and universities unless it is a university of a particular area for example:  The University of the West of England)


The Louvre

The Four Seasons Hotel

The Tower of London

The Sphinx

The Mona Lisa


We use ‘the’ for superlatives, for example:

‘He is the nicest person I have ever met.’

‘She was the cleverest student in our class.’


We also use ‘the’ for some time expressions:

In the morning/afternoon

In the evening (but we say AT NIGHT)

During the day

During the night

The day before yesterday

During/in the summer/winter/spring/autumn