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Using Articles (#2), by Dennis Oliver

Using English Articles (#2)

 

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.

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The Indefinite Articles
A
and An (#2)

 

The indefinite articles a and a are used in several different
ways in English. One use is with singular countable nouns
that are not specifically identified. Another important use is
in making generalizations:

A whale is a mammal.

An artichoke is a vegetable.

A clarinet is a woodwind instrument.

An awl is a tool used to punch holes.

A yard is a measure of length.

An orange is a citrus fruit.

In all of the sentences above, one of a large group of things
is used to refer to all of the items of the particular group.
(The first sentence, for example, can be understood in this
way: 'Any whale that you choose is a mammal.')

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Special Notes:

1.  

Another way to make generalizations
is by using
plural nouns:

Whales are mammals.

Artichokes are vegetables.

Clarinets are woodwind instruments.

Awls are tools used to punch holes.

Yards are measures of length.

Oranges are citrus fruits.

     
2.  

Generalizations may also be made with
uncountable nouns. With uncountable
nouns, however, there are no articles:

Gold is a precious metal.

Rice is a staple food in many countries.

Water is necessary for life on earth.

Butter is made from the fat in cream.

Venison is the meat of a deer.

Patience is a quality I admire.

Notice that in the examples above, the first
noun (gold, rice, water, butter, venison,
patience) is uncountable and is used to make
a generalization. In some of the example
sentences, the second noun is countable
and, therefore, uses an article: a precious
metal, a staple food, a quality.

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Next: more on articles.
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