Importance and Usage of Articles in English Language

Importance and Usage of Articles in English Language

As an online English speaking course in India, we encounter too many students who struggle with the usage of articles. Whether to use “a”, “the” or “an” is simply confusing for most vernacular background individuals trying to learn English as a second language.

Thus, articles are mandatorily a separate learning module that all our online English tutors ensure each of our students are familiar with. In this blog we will be discussing about the function and usage of articles in English.

What is an article?

A word used to modify a noun, which is a person, place, object, or idea is known as an article. Articles are an essential part of the English language as they provide certain information about the noun they precede. One can improve use of articles by learning and consciously applying a few basic principles.

The English language has three articles, ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’. ‘A’ and ‘An’ articles are known as the ‘indefinite articles’ because they do not specify which noun you are talking about. For example, ‘a chair’ could be any chair, or you may want to eat ‘an orange’ without choosing a specific one. If the noun starts with a vowel, (the letters ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’ or ‘u’) article ‘an’ will be used. If it starts with any consonant, then article ‘a’ will be used.

There are some exceptions too before using ‘a’ before consonants and ‘an’ before vowels. If a noun starts with ‘u’ but makes the sound of ‘you’ then article ‘a’ will be used. For example, “I will go to a university”. The definite article ‘the’ specifies and identifies a noun. It also denotes specificity or negativity and other ideas. Now, let’s consider this sentence without articles.

Let’s consider this sentence which we use in our online English classes- “Children know way home.”

Some of the questions that may arise in our mind: Which children? All children? Specific children? All ways home? Any?

Read the next sentence- “The children know the way home.”

Here, in this sentence, we know it’s specific children and a specific way home.

Now, look at this sentence- “Children know the way home.” 

Here we can tell it’s the children in general, and that they know a specific way to get home.

Let’s consider this sentence now- “The children know a way home.”

In this case, we see that it’s a specific set of children, and they know one of the ways to get home. We see different perspectives in all these sentences. But without articles, we can’t say these things.

Tips to use Articles in Sentences- Useful Set of Rules

You can find out where to place the articles by answering the following three questions: Is the noun countable or uncountable? Is the noun singular or plural? and is the noun definite or indefinite?

Note this: If you have more than one instance of it, then the noun is countable. For Example- The word ‘exam’ is countable because one can have many exams at one time. But on the other hand, the word ‘concentration’ is uncountable, because one cannot have too many concentrations at one time; concentration is uncountable. Depending on the sentence, many words have both countable and uncountable meanings.

Using Articles to Refer to Classes of Objects

Nouns can refer to a complete group of similar objects known as a class. There are three ways to refer to a class. That can be done by using the definite singular or the indefinite singular, or the indefinite plural.

Let’s look at the following sentences:

-The tiger is a majestic animal.

- A tiger is a majestic animal.

  • - Tigers are majestic animals.

All three sentences convey almost the same meaning with slightly different emphasis. The first sentence takes one tiger as a representative of all lions and then makes its assertion about that representative. The second sentence in effect states, if any class of lion is taken, it will be true for all. The third sentence directly makes its assertion about all lions. This third usage is probably the most common. Whichever usage sounds best can be chosen in a sentence.

Using Articles in front of Proper Nouns

The rules are not the same and do not work in all situations. Most proper nouns are run on simple rules. Remember not to place an article in front of-

  1. Names of people. For Example- Anne is the fifth prime minister of Norway.
  2. Names of most countries such as Brazil, Italy, or Saudi Arabia.
  3. Academic subjects such as English, Mathematics, or Literature.
  4. Sports such as Soccer, Basketball or Football.
  5. Languages such as Spanish, English, or Portuguese

Using Articles to speak fluently

These eight rules regarding the use of the articles in English will help you speak English fluently with less mistakes:

  • Usage of ‘the’-With the names of countries and continents

We don’t use the articles before most of the countries but if the country is made up of different parts or if the name is taken from common nouns, such as UK, USA, UAE, then we use the article ‘the’ and say the UK, the USA, the UAE.

  • With compass directions

Compass directions are mentioned in capital letters when they designate definite regions (the North, the South, the East, the West), but not when they indicate direction

  • With the names of jobs and professions

In these instances, we should use the indefinite article a/an. For example: I want to be a singer. Or general location. For example: Look to the north and you will see the lake.

  • With the words breakfast, lunch, dinner

Article is not used when it comes to eating in general. But if you are speaking about a particular breakfast, lunch or dinner, use ‘the’. For example: They didn’t like breakfast. (Here we are talking about the particular breakfast that they had)

  • With surnames

Article ‘the’ is used before the surname when speaking about members of the same family collectively. In this way, a group of people, a family can be designated with one word. Remember, the surname must be in the plural form. For example: The Jordans are coming for lunch today.

  • With names of oceans, seas, rivers, and canals

Definite article ‘the’ is always used with these bodies of water. For example, the Amazon, the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal and many more. For Example- I would like to see the Suez Canal.

The quality and accuracy of your English can be improved by using articles correctly. Using articles (a, an, the) is definitely one of the trickiest aspects of writing in English. Different languages have different rules for article usage but using articles in an appropriate manner is necessary to make your writing sound natural. It is equally important to be able to use the articles properly while speaking as well as writing.

Related Articles: English Grammar functions | English Grammar guide | English Grammar tenses

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