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Learn to use articles in English

An article is a word that is used with a noun to specify grammatical definiteness of the noun, and in some languages extending to volume or numerical scope. The articles in English grammar are the and a/an, and in certain contexts some

Definite article

The definite article is used to refer to a particular member of a group or class. It may be something that the speaker has already mentioned or it may be something uniquely specified. There is one definite article in English, for both singular and plural nouns: the:

The children know the fastest way home.

The sentence above refers to specific children and a specific way home; it contrasts with the much more general observation that:

Children know the fastest ways home.

The latter sentence refers to children in general and their specific ways home. Likewise,

Give me the book.

refers to a specific book whose identity is known or obvious to the listener; as such it has a markedly different meaning from 

Give me a book.

which uses an indefinite article, which does not specify what book is to be given.

The definite article can also be used in English to indicate a specific class among other classes:

The cabbage white butterfly lays its eggs on members of the Brassica genus.

However, recent developments show that definite articles are morphological elements linked to certain noun types due to lexicalization. Under this point of view, definiteness does not play a role in the selection of a definite article more than the lexical entry attached to the article.

Indefinite article

An indefinite article indicates that its noun is not a particular one identifiable to the listener. It may be something that the speaker is mentioning for the first time, or the speaker may be making a general statement about any such thing. a/an are the indefinite articles used in English. The form an is used before words that begin with a vowel sound (even if spelled with an initial consonant, as in an hour), and a before words that begin with a consonant sound (even if spelled with a vowel, as in a European).

She had a house so large that an elephant would get lost without a map.

Before some words beginning with a pronounced (not silent) h in an unstressed first syllable, such as historic(al)hallucinationhilarioushorrendous, and horrific, some (especially older) British writers prefer to use an over a (an historical event, etc.). An is also preferred before hotel by some writers of British English (probably reflecting the relatively recent adoption of the word from French, in which the h is not pronounced). The use of 'an' before words beginning with an unstressed 'h' is more common generally in British English than in American. American writers normally use a in all these cases, although there are occasional uses of an historic(al) in American English. According to the New Oxford Dictionary of English, such use is increasingly rare in British English too. Unlike British English, American English typically uses an before herb, since the h in this word is silent for most Americans. The correct usage in respect of the term 'hereditary peer' was the subject of an amendment debated in the UK Parliament.

The word some can be viewed as functionally a plural of a/an in that, for example, 'an apple' never means more than one apple but 'give me some apples' indicates more than one is desired but without specifying a quantity. In this view it is functionally homologous to the Spanish plural indefinite article unos/unasun/una ('one') is completely indistinguishable from the unit number, except where it has a plural form (unos/unas). Thus Dame una manzana' ('Give me an apple') but 'Dame unas manzanas' ('Give me some apples'). The indefiniteness of some or unos can sometimes be semiquantitatively narrowed, as in 'There are some apples there, but not many.'

Some also serves as a singular indefinite article, as in 'There is some person on the porch'.

Proper article

proper article indicates that its noun is proper, and refers to a unique entity. It may be the name of a person, the name of a place, the name of a planet, etc. The Maori language has the proper article a, which is used for personal nouns; so, 'a Pita' means 'Peter'. In Maori, when the personal nouns have the definite or indefinite article as an important part of it, both articles are present; for example, the phrase 'a Te Rauparaha', which contains both the proper article a and the definite article Te refers to the person name Te Rauparaha.

The definite article is sometimes also used with proper names, which are already specified by definition (there is just one of them). For example: the Amazon, the Hebrides. In these cases, the definite article may be considered superfluous. Its presence can be accounted for by the assumption that they are shorthand for a longer phrase in which the name is a specifier, i.e. the Amazon Riverthe Hebridean Islands. Where the nouns in such longer phrases cannot be omitted, the definite article is universally kept: the United Statesthe People's Republic of China

If a name [has] a definite article, e.g. the Kremlin, it cannot idiomatically be used without it: we cannot say Boris Yeltsin is in Kremlin.


Partitive article

partitive article is a type of article, sometimes viewed as a type of indefinite article, used with a mass noun such as water, to indicate a non-specific quantity of it. Partitive articles are a class of determiner; they are used in French and Italian in addition to definite and indefinite articles. (In Finnish and Estonian, the partitive is indicated by inflection.) The nearest equivalent in English is some, although the latter is classified as a determiner but not in all authorities' classifications as an indefinite article, and English uses it less than French uses de

French: Veux-tu du café ?Do you want (some) coffee?For more information, see the article on the French partitive article.

Haida has a partitive article (suffixed -gyaa) referring to 'part of something or... to one or more objects of a given group or category,' e.g., tluugyaa uu hal tlaahlaang 'he is making a boat (a member of the category of boats).'

Negative article

negative article specifies none of its noun, and can thus be regarded as neither definite nor indefinite. On the other hand, some consider such a word to be a simple determiner rather than an article. In English, this function is fulfilled by no, which can appear before a singular or plural noun: 

No man has been on this island.No dogs are allowed here.No one is in the room.

Zero article

See also: Zero article in English

The zero article is the absence of an article. In languages having a definite article, the lack of an article specifically indicates that the noun is indefinite. Linguists interested in X-bar theory causally link zero articles to nouns lacking a determiner. In English, the zero article rather than the indefinite is used with plurals and mass nouns, although the word 'some' can be used as an indefinite plural article.

Visitors end up walking in mud.
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