English has three articles: a, an, and the. These little words are used to introduce certain nouns, but there are specific rules regarding the use of each one.


When do I use an article?

  • A” is used before a general noun that has not been introduced to the reader.

A cat walked by my door. (Note: I don’t know this cat, so it is referred to as a generic cat.)

  • An” is used before a general noun that has not been introduced to the reader and also begins with a vowel (or a vowel sound).

I found an umbrella leaning against the wall in the hallway. (Note: I don’t know whose umbrella this is, so it is generic.)

  • The” is used before a specific item, something you mentioned before, or something unique.

I noticed the cat rubbing up against the umbrella in the hallway. (Note: I already introduced these items before!)

The sun rose in the east. (Note: If there were more than one sun rising, this could become “A sun rose in the east.”)

The women played tennis. (Note: Here, the sentence refers to specific women, so the article is needed!)

When do I not use an article?

  • Do not use an article before a plural count noun that refers to general items/groups.

Men and women both enjoy sports. (Note: it is not “The men” because this is a general category, not a specific one.)

  • Do not use an article before a noncount noun, unless it names specific representatives of a general category.

Love grows stronger every year.

The love between us grows stronger every year. (Note: Here, the love is specifically between us.)

  • Do not use an article before a proper noun.

Professor Todd lives in Tampa

How can I revise my article usage?

Ask yourself:

  1. Is the article necessary?
  2. Is the noun general or specific?