Using Articles

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Using a, an and the

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When to use Articles (a, an, the)

Articles give your readers information about nouns. Three questions will help you to know which article to use, if any: (1) What kind of noun is it: collective, proper, or regular? (2) Does the noun refer to something specific or general? (3) Is the noun countable (singular or plural) or uncountable?  “The” tells me that a noun is specific in some way, but it is not a singular proper noun. “A/an” tells me you are thinking of one thing, but not one specific thing. The absence of an article tells me it is a plural, uncountable or proper noun (but not a collective). For a more complete explanation of when to use articles, see


1.  What kind of noun is it: collective, proper, or other?

1.1 Generic, proper and adjectival collective nouns (nouns made up of parts) normally need “the” (common collectives need a/an/the; see 3.1)


1.2 Proper singular & plural nouns (except proper collective nouns) DO NOT normally need an article (this includes one-day holidays, magazines, universities and their abbreviations, and a few other abbreviations)


1.3 People groups ending in “s” DO NOT need “the”


1.4 People groups that don’t end in “s” need “the”


2.  Does the noun refer to something specific?

2.1 Singular but not specific nouns need “a/an”—including proper nouns used in a general sense


2.2 To specify ALL members of a set, use “the”


2.3 For specific things your reader knows about, use “the” (whether known by context, contrast to similar things, culture, or setting; includes “the __ of”)


3.  Is the noun countable (singular/plural) or uncountable?

3.1 Singular countable nouns and common collective nouns need an article


3.2 Uncountable and plural countable nouns DO NOT need an article (in their general sense)


4.  Special cases and reminders

4.1 You can usually omit articles with home, school, work, church or campus


4.2 DO NOT use articles with “BY+a form of transportation”


4.3 DO NOT use articles with the name of sports or school subjects


4.4 Possessive pronouns and “one” can take the place of an article


4.5 Don’t forget articles in front of adjectives



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