When to use articles – a, an, the.

Articles are an essential part of the English language and often distinguish between a good English speaker and one that isn’t – because this is a clear marker of good grammar. But when should you use them? Which one should you use?

articles the a an

Articles are used in front of nouns.

The indefinite article is “a” or “an” because it’s general, it’s not specific. If you say “a cup” it could be any cup.

When I teach these articles I normally hold up one finger to show “one.” This is because, in simple terms, they are used in the singular. A dog. Dogs. It’s like saying “one dog.” You don’t use articles for plurals. You don’t say “a dogs.”

Use “an” in front of words that begin with vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u). An apple. An elephant. An igloo. An orange. An umbrella.

Use “a” in front of all the others (consonants). A car. A ball. A pencil. A ruler.

The definite article “the” is used on something specific. The blue cup. It’s that specific cup. Amongst all those pencils I want that specific red pencil. So I say: “the red pencil.”

“The” is also used for physical things such as “the weather” or “the countryside.”

Here is a very simple video you can play for your child to explain the difference.

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