Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

What Are Articles? (with Examples)

What Are Articles? (with Examples)

The articles are a, an, and the. Articles are words that define whether something is specific or unspecific. For example:

Use 'the' to define something as specific:
  • This is the lake.
  • (This is a previously specified lake, i.e., one already known to the audience.)
Use 'a' or 'an' to define something as unspecific:
  • This is a lake.
  • (This is a previously unspecified lake.)
Even though there are three articles (the, a, an), there are two types of articles: The is called the definite article because it is used to indicate something specific. A and An are called the indefinite articles because they are used to indicate something unspecific.

Of note, the articles are classified as determiners, which are type of adjective.

Examples of the Definite and Indefinite Articles

Here are some examples of the articles in use:
  • I fell over the chair again.
  • (The chair is specific. It is known to the audience.)
  • Can you pass me a chair?
  • (This means an unspecific chair, i.e., any chair.)
  • I loved the apple pie after the meal.
  • (In this example, the audience knows which apple pie is being praised, e.g., the one at last night's dinner.)
  • I love an apple pie after dinner.
  • (The audience understands that the speaker likes to eat an apple pie after dinner (any apple pie will do).)

  • I'm not a troublemaker. I'm the troublemaker!
  • (This means "I'm not any old troublemaker. I'm the one you all know about.")

When Do You Use An and A?

The main question regarding articles is when to use an instead of a.

An is used instead of a to make speaking easier. An is used when the first sound of the next word is a vowel sound. Note: Consonants can create a vowel sound, and vowels can create a consonant sound. The use of an is determined by the sound not the letter. Look at these examples:
  • A house
  • An hour
  • (House and hour start with the same three letters; however, house attracts a, and hour attracts an. This is because house starts with a consonant sound, but hour starts with a vowel sound.)
  • A uniform row
  • An unidentified man
  • (Uniform and unidentified start with the same three letters; however, uniform attracts a, and unidentified attracts an. This is because uniform starts with a consonant sound (yoo), but unidentified starts with a vowel sound.)

Articles Go before Adjectives

An article often modifies a noun that is already being modified by an adjective. When this happens, the article goes before the adjective (or adjectives). For example:
  • Please open the small box first.
  • (Here, the noun box is being modified by the adjective small. The definite article the sits before the adjective. Remember, the use of the tells us that we are talking about a box already known to the audience.)

  • You will get an excellent pizza at Papa Antonio's.
  • (Here, the indefinite article an sits before the adjective excellent.)

Indefinite Articles Are Used with Singular Nouns

The indefinite article (a, an) is only for singular nouns. It is not used for plural nouns.

As the indefinite article (a, an) specifies one thing (e.g., a cup means one cup), it is not used with non-countable nouns (e.g., water, air, integrity). For example:
  • I need an air.
  • Play me a music.
  • Give me a heat.
Most commonly, the indefinite adjective some is used instead.

Articles Are Not Used with Possessive Adjectives or Possessive Pronouns

Articles are not used with possessive adjectives (my, your, his, her, its, our, their) or possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs) as these already show that something is specific. For example:
  • Take me to the your leader.
  • Take me to your leader.

  • Can I borrow a yours?
  • Can I borrow yours?
Top Tip

Use an before a Vowel Sound

Use an (as opposed to a) when the next word starts with a vowel sound. For example:
  • It was an unicorn.
  • (Unicorn starts with a vowel but not a vowel sound. It starts with a yoo sound, which is a consonant sound. That's why it attracts a and not an.)
  • It was a unicorn.
Read more about when to use a and an.
Interactive Test