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Choosing Words Correctly

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Articles A and An:

Questions to be considered before using the articles A or An:

Is the noun countable? If so, is it singular or plural? If singular, use a and if plural use the.
Does the noun begin with a vowel or a vowel sound?

A is followed by a singular countable noun.
A is used in front of most singular words that begin with consonants:

a Bible
a student
a teacher

An precedes almost all words that begin with vowels:

an elephant
an invitation
an apple

An also precedes all words that begin with vowel sounds:

an hour
an SOS

When "u" has a short vowel sound, the word is preceded by "an":
an umpire
an umbrella
an understanding

Words beginning with the long vowel-you sound are preceded by an "a":

a union
a utensil
a university
a used car
a U.S. ship
a European country

When o makes the same sound as in won.
Then, a is used:

a one hour wait
a one-legged man

Indefinite Articles (a or an) vs. the Definite Article (the)


Does the noun refer to a specific person or thing?
Is there prior knowledge of the noun?
If you answer yes to either of these questions, use the definite article-"the."

"He spent the hour standing in line."
In this example, there is prior knowledge as to the time of day.

"He went to the post office."
In this example, the post office is known to the speaker.
Perhaps, it is the only post office in town.

"That is the book you need for your English class."
In this example, there is one book required for the English class.

"She's the student in my class I was talking about."
In this example, the speaker is being specific; the speaker is identifying the student.


Does the noun refer to a person or thing known to the recipient of the information?
Are you providing non-specific information or mentioning the noun for the first time?

"Our town has a theater, a university, a large park and a conference hall." (indefinite articles providing initial information)
Once introduced, all further references to the noun may be preceded by the definite article the. "I went to the theater last Tuesday."

"I have two cars: a Ford and an Audi. The Ford is white and the Audi is silver."

"He spent an hour standing in line today."
In this example, the time of the day isn't specified.

"He went to a post office."
In this example, the post office isn't identified.

"She's a student in my class."
In this example, the speaker is not being specific; the speaker is just saying the student is one of the students in the class.


Use the article the before a noun whose identity is known.

Sometimes "the" can be used with the first mention of the noun because there is prior knowledge of the noun.

Also, use "the" with nouns preceded by superlatives and ordinals.
"January is the first month of the year."
"Olamendi's is the best restaurant in the city."

Use the article a (or an) before a noun in which the identity is not known or if the sentence serves as an introduction.

The indefinite article a/an is placed in front of a countable noun that is particularly unknown or being mentioned for the very first time.
Do not use a (or an) with nouns that cannot be counted."

The indefinite article can also be used instead of per when giving the rate or pace of something.
"He earns $200 a day."
"She swims twice a week."
"He drove at 60 miles an hour."

The indefinite article can also be used when the object is spoken about generally or in a broad sense:
A computer disk is used to store information.
A car is a valued means of transportation.

"That is a book you need for your English class."
In this example, the speaker implies that the student needs more than one book for the class; the book being identified is only one of the books required for the class.

  Indefinite (a or an) Definite (the)
Singular a man (any man)
an apple (any apple)
the man (that specific man)
the apple (that specific apple)
Plural some men (any men)
some apples (any apples)
the men (those specific men)
the apples (those specific apples)


Bill would like to take a trip to Europe someday. So, he asked his manager for a raise. He met with her in the cafeteria. She said she'd have an answer for him at the end of the day. The next day Bill received the raise.

When are articles not used?

1. Some general indefinite (not specific) words take no article at all.

I like flowers (speaking of flowers in general).
Mary likes school (she likes school in general).

Some general definite words take an article when a prepostional phrase identifies them.

I like the flowers in your garden.
Mary likes the school on Hidden Hills St.

2. Do not use articles before streets, cities or countries.

I live on Main St.
I live in San Juan Capistrano.
I lived in Mexico.

3. Do not use articles before names of languages:

I speak Spanish.

4. Do not use articles before names of sports:

He likes to play baseball.

5. Do not use articles before names of academic subjects:

I took biology in college.

A couple more examples of correct sentences:

Many people go to church on Sunday.
Many people go to the large Catholic church in San Juan Capistrano.

An uncountable noun cannot be used with a/an. For example, anything perceived as a mass, such as traffic, hair, or grass, any material, such as wood, plastic, or rubber, any liquid, such as water or milk, or any bulk food, such as bread, cheese, or rice.

More uncountable nouns include: concepts (knowledge, travel), activities (reading, watching), and sports or games (chess, surfing).

Bible Verse of the Day

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