Article usage depends on whether a noun is one of the following:
- singular or plural
- indefinite or definite
countable or uncountable
A. The indefinite articles a and an are used with indefinite nouns. An indefinite noun refers to a thing that is not specifically identified. An indefinite noun is unknown either to you, the reader, or to the writer of the text. A and an mean one. Use a/an only with singular countable nouns. Never use a/an with plural nouns. Never use a/an with uncountable nouns.
Singular countable nouns:
A student can book a consultation with a Peer Educator.
Nouns that represent a whole class or type of things:
- The chill of an ice storm can be felt inside as well as outside.
An ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in the structure and diseases of the eye.
A or An? Use a before a consonant sound. Use an before a vowel sound:
|a hurricane||an American||an oil derrick|
|a wild animal||an invention||an uprising|
|a year ago||an economics professor||an unusual request|
Some words are spelled with a vowel but are pronounced with a consonant sound:
|a European||a university||a useful example|
|a eulogy||a uniform||a utility vehicle|
B. The definite article, the, is used with definite nouns. A definite noun refers to a thing that is known to you, the reader. A definite noun can be made known by being mentioned in the sentence. A definite noun is specific rather than general. Use the with a singular and plural countable nouns and with uncountable nouns:
Singular countable nouns:
The gearbox of a gasoline engine lies between the clutch and the differential.
Plural countable nouns:
The crankshaft always turns faster than the wheels.
The police discovered the information about the suspect on Facebook.
Good teachers care about the progress of their students.
Use the with other nouns and structure
Specific species of animals and plants:
The humpback whale migrates between its summer feeding ground in Alaska and its winter breeding and calving ground in California, Mexico.
The dogwood is the provincial flower of British Columbia.
Inventions, instruments, models, and types of buildings:
The elevated floors of the AQ contain academic departments, offices and classrooms.
The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in Switzerland in 1989.
The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family.
Superlatives and one of:
The oldest playable musical instrument is a 9,000 year old flute discovered in China.
SFU is one of Canada’s best comprehensive universities.
The only one of something:
The Sun is by far the largest object in the solar system.
Pneumonia is an inflammatory illness of the lungs.
The human brain contains 10 billion neurons, mostly in the outer layer of the brain cortex.
Names of large bodies of water, regions, groups of mountains, islands, and lakes:
|the Pacific Ocean||the Panama Canal||the Ural Mountains||the Fraser River|
|the West||the Pacific Rim||the Great Lakes||the Caribbean|
C. No article is used with some nouns:
Plural countable nouns that are indefinite:
Stanley Park is an urban park containing many beaches, trees, and trails.
Generalizations about uncountable nouns:
Land, labor, and capital are essential for the production of goods.
Human Kinetics is the study of the human body and its relationship to exercise, sport, and health.
Gerund (verb + ing):
Gerunds are usually uncountable and indefinite, as in:
Myanmar ruby mining is done by a mixture of all tribes and ethnic groups of Myanmar.
Exception: A gerund + of structure is made specific and therefore takes the definite article the:
The mining of rubies is Myanmar's third largest export, netting close to US $300 million