How to use articles correctly?
Most students have trouble using the direct and indirect articles correctly. Here are the most important rules to remember when using definite and indefinite articles.
Uses of the indefinite article
Use indefinite articles (a/an) when you talk about a person or thing for the first time.
- I met a boy at the store.
- She has a daughter.
- The old man married a young woman.
- I watched an interesting movie yesterday.
In all of these sentences we are talking about the noun for the first time. In other words, we are introducing it. Therefore, we use the indefinite article with them.
Use indefinite articles when we are talking about a person or thing that is not known to both the writer and the reader.
- I have consulted a doctor. (You don’t know the doctor I consulted.)
- I have been to the doctor. (You know which doctor I went to.)
- I took my kids to a park yesterday. (You don’t know which park I am talking about.)
- I took my kids to the park yesterday. (You know the park I visited.)
Uses of the definite article
Use the definite article (the) when you are referring to something that has already been mentioned.
- I saw a pretty girl in the store. (Here we use ‘a’ with ‘girl’ because the listener/reader does not know which girl we are talking about. We use ‘the’ with ‘store’ because the listener/reader knows which store you are talking about.)
- The girl that I met in the store was crying. (Here we use ‘the’ with ‘girl’ because we have already introduced her to the listener / reader.)
- I have a boy and a girl – the boy is thirteen and the girl is seven.
The first time that we introduce the boy and the girl, we use the indefinite article ‘a’. The second time we use ‘the’.
Singular countable nouns need an article or another determiner with them. Plural and uncountable nouns can be used with or without articles.
Use no definite or indefinite article with a plural noun when you are talking about things in general.