English in Use/Articles

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English in Use
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Parts of speech ArticlesNounsVerbsGerunds and participlesPronounsAdjectivesAdverbsPrepositions, Conjunctions and Interjections
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An article is the word the, an, or a, which we put before nouns to limit their signification: as, the air, the stars, an island, a ship.

The articles can seldom be put one for the other, without gross impropriety; and of course either is to be preferred to the other, as it better suits the sense: as,

  • "The violation of this rule never fails to hurt and displease a reader."—Blair's Lectures, p. 107.
  • Say, "A violation of this rule never fails to displease the reader."

Nouns without any article[edit]

A common noun, when taken in its widest sense, usually admits no article: as,

  • "A candid temper is proper for man; that is, for all mankind."—Murray.

Nouns without any article, or other definitive, are often used in a sense indefinitely partitive: as,

  • "He took bread, and gave thanks."—Acts.
  • That is, "Some bread."
  • "To buy food are your servants come."—Genesis.
  • That is, "Some food."
  • "There are fishes that have wings, and are not strangers to the airy region."—Locke's Essay, p. 322.
  • That is, "Some fishes."
  • "Words in which nothing but the mere being of anything is implied, are used without articles: as, 'This is not beer, but water;' 'This is not brass, but steel.'"—Dr. Johnson's Gram., p. 5.

Indefinite articles[edit]

The indefinite article is an or a, which denotes one thing of a kind, but not any particular one: as, a boy, an orange.

An is used in preference to a, whenever the following word begins with a vowel sound: as, an art, an end, an heir, an inch, an ounce, an hour, an urn.

A is used in preference to an, whenever the following word begins with a consonant sound: as, a man, a house, a wonder, a one, a yew, a use, a ewer, a European car.

The consonant sounds of w and y, even when expressed by other letters, require a and not an before them: as,

  • "In an epic poem, or a poem upon an elevated subject, a writer ought to avoid raising a simile on a low image."—Ld. Kames.

An or a before the genus, may refer to a whole species; and the before the species, may denote that whole species emphatically: as,

  • "A certain bird is termed the cuckoo, from the sound which it emits."—Blair.

But an or a is commonly used to denote individuals as unknown, or as not specially distinguished from others: as,

  • "I see an object pass by, which I never saw till now; and I say, 'There goes a beggar with a long beard.'"—Harris.

The article an or a implies unity, or one, and of course belongs to nouns of the singular number only: as, a man, an old man, a good boy.

An or a sometimes gives a collective meaning to a numeral, when the noun following is plural: as, a few days, a hundred men, one hundred pounds sterling.

Definite articles[edit]

The definite article is the, which denotes some particular thing or things: as, the boy, the oranges.

The definite article is commonly used to denote individuals as known, or as specially distinguished from others: as,

  • "The man departs, and returns a week after; and I say, 'There goes the beggar with the long beard.'"—Id.

The article the is applied to nouns of either number: as, the man, the men; the good boy, the good boys.

The is commonly required before adjectives that are used by ellipsis as nouns: as,

  • "The young are slaves to novelty; the old, to custom."—Ld. Kames.


Pronunciation of "the" all depends on the word it's referring to and whether that word starts with a vowel sound or a consonant sound. When the word begins with a vowel sound we use the long "the" (thee). For example: The (thee) Apple, the (thee hOur). When the word begins with a consonant sound we use the short "the" (ther). For example: The (ther) Banana, the (ther) University.

Sometime's "the" is used to emphasis a noun, especially when that noun is unique. When writing this particular use of "the" it is almost always written in Italics "the".

For Example: "I saw the Queen last week." "What?! The (thee) Queen? As in Queen Elizabeth the 2nd?" "Yes, Queen Elizabeth."

General rules[edit]

Articles should be inserted as often as the sense requires them: as,

  • "Repeat the preterit and [the] past participle of the verb to abide."—Merchant's American School Grammar, p. 66.

Needless articles should be omitted; they seldom fail to pervert the sense: as,

  • "The Rhine, the Danube, the Tanais, the Po, the Volga, the Ganges, like many hundreds of similar names, rose not from any obscure jargon or irrational dialect."—Dr. Murray's Hist. of Europ. Lang., Vol. i, p. 327.

A short syntax[edit]

Articles relate to the nouns which they limit, as "The blind beggar," except the following cases: the comparative or the superlative degree, as "The mightiest," and an unstressed numeral, as "A hundred men."

References[edit]