English Grammar: Article

 By Pacific Lava
1. Overview
Articles are used to define a noun, or noun phrase, as specific or unspecific. Article is form word that cannot occur in sentence independently and is always in front of a noun or noun phrase. For example,
  • The cup of tea tasted good.
  • Who is the author of the green book?
English has two types of articles: definite and indefinite.

The: Definite Article, it limits the meaning of a noun to one particular thing. For example, if you mentioned "the computer", it should be a specific computer, namely "this computer" or "that computer", not refer to unspecific computer.

The definite article can be used with singular, plural, or even uncountable nouns. For example,
  • Please give me the hammer. (hammer, individual noun in singular)
  • Let's review the new words of 2nd chapter.(words, individual noun in plural)
  • He works hard for the welfare of poor people. (welfare, abstract noun, uncountable)

A or An: Indefinite Article, which only appears with singular nouns, has two forms but is with exactly same function. a is when it precedes a word that begins with a consonant, while an is when it precedes a word that begins with a vowel. It indicates that a noun refers to an unspecific thing rather than a particular one. For example, "give me an apple" means any apple, but not a specific one.

Examples of a or an, notice that "a" or "an" is relies on the word that exactly following it, no matter if the word is noun, adjective, or others.
  • an island
  • an umbrella
  • an ounce
  • an honest man
  • an hour
  • a gril
  • a red apple
  • a university
  • a one-act play
  • a European city
  • a humble man
There are a few exceptions to the general rule about starting with consonants or vowels. For example, "honor" starts with a consonant, but "h" isn't pronounced, so the word honor begins with a vowel sound. Therefore, we use "an" in front of "honor". Similarly, we use "a" before "university".

This holds true with acronyms and initialisms, such as
  • an LCD
  • a UK-based company
  • an HR department
  • a URL.
2. Basic Meanings of The Article
Although articles (the, a or an) cannot be used independently, they still have basic meanings.

The: Originate as same as "this" or "that", weaker than "this" or "that" but can be used on both singular and plural objects. For example:

  • Put it on the table.
  • Who is the young man over there?
  • Please renew the books tomorrow.

A or An: Originate as same as "one", can be used on singular of countable noun. For example:

  • She is a teacher.
  • He comes with an Irish wife.
  • Please give me a bottle of water.
3. Nouns in Specific and unspecific Context
When we use a noun, it may refer a specific item, or represents an unspecific object. For example:
  • Have a seat. (any seat)
  • Is the seat taken? (a specific seat)
  • Can you lend me a book? (any book)
  • Can you lean me the book? (a specific book)
To refer a specific object, we usually need to apply definite article "the".

As for unspecific objects, we divide them into 3 cases.

Countable singular nouns: Add indefinite article, a or an, this is the commonest case. For example,

  • It's a nice car.
  • She sent her boss an email.

Countable plural nouns: Don't use article, but may add "some" or "any" to express unspecific objects. For example,

  • These are new words.
  • She brought us some flowers.

Uncountable nouns: Don't use article, sometimes add "some" or "any". For example,

  • It's lovely weather.
  • Give me some help.
We summarize specific and unspecific use cases as following cases.

Specificunspecific
Type ofOne, Some, Any
Countable Singularthe booka booka book
Countable Pluralthe booksbookssome/any books
Uncountablethe sugarsugarsome/any sugar