- Sentence Elements
- Diction (Word Choice)
- Exercises and Quizzes
Last Updated: 05/17/11
Articles are adjectives (such as a, an, and the) that let the reader know if you are referring to a particular thing or just one of those things. There are two kinds of articles: definite articles and indefinite articles.
The is considered a definite article; it tells the reader that you are referring to a unique thing.
Example: Did you eat the apple?
Here, the reader assumes the apple is unique--you are referring to a particular apple.
A and an are considered indefinite articles, and they tell the reader that you are referring to something that is not unique.
Example: I ate an apple.
Here, the apple is not unique--perhaps it is one of many.
Use a for a word that begins with a consonant (a car, a bed, a computer), and use an for a word that begins with a vowel (an elephant, an outlet, an igloo).
Common Article Usage Errors
1. The first time you refer to an object, use a/an. The second and every subsequent time, you should use the.
Example: I drive a minivan. The minivan is black with red and orange flames painted on the side.
2. Do not use an article when referring to countries, states, lakes, counties, or mountains. An exception would be when referring to a collection of something: The Great Lakes, The United States.
Example: I have visited South America. She lives in Hennepin County.
3. Do not use an article for nonspecific plural nouns. In American English, it is more common to omit articles for plural nouns:
Incorrect: The cats have big eyes that can see in the dark.
Improved: Cats have big eyes that can see in the dark.
4. Do not use your instead of an article:
Incorrect: To buy something from Amazon.com, simply enter your credit card number and your shipping address.
Improved: To buy something from Amazon.com, customers simply enter a credit card number and a shipping address.