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Learn to Speak English Fluently: Use of ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’

TLP Spoken English Course is designed to facilitate self-learning in an easy way. To know more read: How to Use the Course Content? In the previous unit you have learnt the Use of ‘ought to’, ‘dare’ and ‘need’ and in this unit you will learn the ‘Use of ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’‘.

There are 26 alphabets in English and they are divided into ‘Vowels’ and ‘Consonants’. The letters, ‘a, e, i, o, u’ are called vowels and the rest are consonants. According to the sound system, there are twenty vowel sounds and twenty four consonant sounds. ‘A’, ‘an’ and ‘the’ are called articles and these are commonly used. ‘A’ and ‘an’ are called ‘indefinite articles’. They do not refer to any particular person or thing. They refer to anything which is ‘one’, ‘any’ and ‘each’. They are used before nouns which are singular and those we can count. (Ex. a cat, a man and so on)

This is a cow.
He is a boy.
She is an actor.

For nouns which cannot be counted, like ‘coffee’, ‘water’, ‘rice’ ‘sugar’ and so on,  we  say—a cup of coffee, a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread, a bag of rice and so on. For some other nouns like ‘money, water, air, music and so on, we do not use ‘a or an’.

We have a bottle of honey at home.
Get a loaf of bread from the bakery.
I drink a cup of coffeee every morning.

Use of ‘a’

To talk about whole numbers, fractions, weights, money and measures before nouns. (a hundred, a quarter, a kilogram, a liter, a ten rupee note, a couple, a minute, a dozen, a week and so on)
He walks a mile every day.
We bought a dozen bananas.
I have a hundred rupee note.
It is a quarter to seven now.

  • To talk about oneself or others in reference to one’s occupation (a job or profession).

He is a professor.
I am a student.
She is a software engineer.

  • To introduce someone for the first time and also when we are not sure about the person’s identification.

He is a surgeon.
A boy came into the class.
She is an officer.

  • To express a sudden feeling or wish.

What a beautiful picture!
What an idea!
What a lovely dress!

  • Before words beginning with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u), but pronounced with a consonsonant sound.

She is studying at a university.
He is a European.
I visit my native place once a year.

Use of ‘an’

We use ‘an’ before a word that begins with a vowel sound. (Ex. an American, an egg, an engineer, an Indian, an English man, an orange, an ink bottle, an umbrella, an idea, an ear, an ugly creature)

He is an officer.
This is an egg.
I am an Indian.
That is an umbrella.

We use ‘an’ before some words which begin with ‘h’ because the ‘h’ is silent.
She is an honest woman.
I will come to your house in an hour.
He is an honourable man.

We use ‘an’ before some abbreviations which begin with ‘A,E,F,H,I,L,M,N,O,R,S or X when pronounced as individual letters. We use ‘a’ when the abbreviation begins with a consonant.
Mohan is an IAS Officer.
He is an MLA.
Rajesh has an SBI card.
A SAARC, A NATO

Use of ‘the’

We use the Definite Article ‘the’ before singular countable nouns, plural countable nouns and an uncountable noun. It is used to refer to–

  1. The particular one
  2. When it is clear which thing or person we mean
  3. The only one
  4. The one we have mentioned before.

This is the book I was looking for.
This is the institute where I studied.
A boy came into the class. The boy is sitting on the first bench.

Before a noun, which means ‘one of its kind’.
The Sun, The North Pole, The Himalayas, The Ganga, The UK, The Pacific Ocean, The Indus, The RTC Crossroads

Before names of holy books.
        The Bhagavat Gita, The Ramayana, The Bible, The Quran, The Vedas

Before important designations.
        The Prime Minister, The Chief Minister, The Principal, The Post Master

In expressions like—-The first week, The fifth floor, The last day and so on.

Before names of musical instruments.
Ex. The guitar, The drums, The flute, The tabla

With some adjectives like, rich, poor, young, old and so on to talk about a general group of people.
The rich should help the poor.
We should care for the aged.
The young boy won the medal.

Before a superlative adjective.
He is the best player.
She is the most intelligent girl.
Raju is the eldest son in the family.

Before words like–middle, end, next, East, West and so on.
The middle, The top, The end, The centre, The next, The East, The West, The South, The North

Before names of newspapers.
The Hindu, The Times of India, The Deccan Chronicle

Previous: Use of ‘ought to’, ‘dare’ and ‘need’

Next: Irregular Verbs

Check the meanings of the words in English Oxford Living Dictionaries