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.
How can I revise my article usage?
- Is the article necessary?
- Is the noun general or specific?