TIPS ON ARTICLE USAGE
by Burton Pu
Using the articles a, an, and the appropriately
Articles (a, an, and the) often signal that a noun is about to appear, and they either limit or make nouns they modify more precise. It is in this sense that articles are also considered to be adjectives.
Native speakers of English encounter few problems with articles; however, to those whose native language is not English, articles are often troublesome, for the rules governing their use are surprisingly complex.
There are two kinds of articles: indefinite and definite.
The indefinite articles, a and an, denote an unspecific item.
The choice between a and an depends on the sound (not the letter): a is used before a consonant sound (a book, a country, a historical event); an is used before a vowel sound (an apple, an egg, an honorable person).
Use a (or an) with singular count nouns whose specific identity is not known to the reader.
The operator dialed a number.
She is looking for an apartment close to the university.
Do not use a (or an) to modify noncount nouns, such as water, air, knowledge.
He bought a sugar, a milk, and a wine. (Incorrect)
He bought sugar, milk, and wine. (Correct)
He bought a pound of sugar, a quart of milk, and a bottle of wine. (Correct)
Do not use a (or an) to modify an abstract noun or a noun used in a generalization.
A life is what you make it. (Incorrect)
Life is what you make it. (Correct)
A death is part of life. (Incorrect)
Death is part of life. (Correct)
The definite article, the, denotes a particular item.
Use the with most nouns whose specific identity is known to the reader. In other words, when the definite article is used, the identity of these nouns will be clear to the reader for one of the following reasons:
* The noun has been previously mentioned.
The operator dialed a number. When the operator dialed the number again, she still did not get any answer.
* A phrase or a clause following the noun restricts its identity.
The building on the left of the church is our city library.
He is talking to the person whom he met last week.
* A superlative such as best or most interesting makes the noun's identity specific.
John is the tallest person in our school.
This is the most convincing point of your argument.
* The noun describes a unique person, place, or thing.
People call the moon they see twice a month the blue moon.
* The context or situation makes the noun's identity clear.
Please close the door when you leave the room.
Do not use the with plural or noncount nouns meaning all or in general.
The computers are time-saving devices. (Incorrect)
Computers are time-saving devices. (Correct)
In some Asian countries the rice is preferred to all other grains. (Incorrect)
In some Asian countries rice is preferred to all other grains. (Correct)
Do not use the with most proper nouns.
Italy, China, Germany, India, England, Rome, Cairo, Paris, Tokyo, Chestnut Street, Wall Street, Harvard University, Whitman College.
Do not use both indefinite and definite articles to modify nouns which have been modified by other noun markers, such as possessive nouns, numbers, and pronouns.
Possessive nouns: John's friends, Julie's sister, Jane's book
Numbers: three cars, twelve horses, eight lucky numbers
Pronouns: my, your, his, her, its, our, their, whose, this, that, these, those, all, any, each, either, every, few, many, more, most, much, neither, several, some.
(Common exceptions: a few, the most, all the.)