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Using English articles (#1), by Dennis Oliver

Using English Articles (#1)


Because the English articles (a, an, the) are often very
challenging for learners of the language, the next several
Hints will provide guidelines on their usage.


The Indefinite Articles
and An (#1)


The indefinite articles a and an are very common in
English. They're used to refer generally to singular
countable nouns. (That is, a or an will probably be
used when it isn't important to know which particular
noun is being referred to.)

The article a is used before singular countable nouns
that begin with a consonant sound:

a boy / a block / a brick
a cat / a cracker / a clasp
a chair / a chronometer
a fox / a flower / a friend
a gorilla / a glance / a grape / a group
a ham / a horse / a house
a jewel / a job / a joke
a kid / a kiss / a knife / a knight
a lamp / a lady / a lock
a man / a movie / a mule
a nap / a night / a nod
a person / a phone / a phrase
a plant / a prayer / a psychologist
a rope / a rhinoceros / a rhyme / a rhythm
a salad / a shoe / a shrimp
a splinter / a spring / a stove / a string
a turtle / a trap / a theme / a threat
a wig / a weed / a wheel / a wrestler
a xylophone / a xerox
a yam / a yard / a year

a zebra / a zero / a zipper / a zoo

The article an is used before singular countable nouns
that begin with a vowel sound:

an alley / an answer / an apple
an eagle / an effect / an effort
an icicle / an image / an island / an itch
an onion / an opportunity / an oven
an uncle / an urn

Notice that some nouns begin with a consonant letter
but have a vowel sound (because the consonant letter
is silent (written, but not pronounced):

an honor / an hour

Notice also that when nouns begin with the vowel
letters eu, these letters are pronounced yoo ( [ iú ] ),
so the noun actually begins with a consonant sound,
not a vowel sound. For this reason, such words use
a, not an:

a eulogy / a ewe / a European

In a few words that begin with u, the u is pronounced
yoo ( [ iú ] ), and, for this reason, the proper article
is also a, not an:

a ukulele / a union / a university
a use / a Ute


Next: more on articles
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