#EngTips: the determiners = the, a, an

What are determiners actually? Those are words placed in front of a noun to make it clear what the noun refers to. There are several classes of determiners.

For today’s lesson, we will discuss definite and indefinite articles: ‘the’, ‘a’, and ‘an’.

Let’s start with the definite article: ‘the’. ‘The’ can be used in many ways.

  1. To refer to something which has already been mentioned. Example: I just bought an umbrella. — Then you forgot and ask your friend: Where is the umbrella?
  2. When both the speaker and listener know what is being talked about. Example: Where is the bathroom? | It’s on the first floor.
  3. In sentences or clauses where we define or identify a particular person or object. Example: My house is the one with a red door.
  4. To refer to objects we regard as unique. Example: the sun, the moon, the world.
  5. Before superlatives and ordinal numbers. Example: the first page, the last chapter.
  6. With adjectives, to refer to a whole group of people. Example: the Indonesian.
  7. With names of geographical areas and oceans. Example: the Caribbean, the Sahara.
  8. With decades or groups of years. Example: She grew up in the eighties.

How about the indefinite articles: ‘a/ an’?

You can use ‘a’ with nouns starting with a consonant and use ‘an’ with nouns starting with a vowel. Example: a boy, an apple, a surgery, an officer.

However, there are some exceptions.

  • You use ‘an’ before an ‘h’ mute: an hour, an honour.
  • And you use ‘a’ before ‘u’ and ‘eu’ when they sound like ‘you’: a European, a university, a unit.

You can use the indefinite article in many ways too.

  1. To refer to something for the first time. Example: I’ve finally got a great job.
  2. To refer to a particular member of a group or class. Example: Mary is a doctor. She’s such a beautiful girl.

Don’t forget that there are some exceptions in using the definite article. There is no article for following situation.

  1. Names of countries (if singular). Example: He’s just returned from Indonesia.
  2. Names of languages. Example: Chinese is a pretty difficult language.
  3. Names of meals. Example: Dinner is in the evening.
  4. People’s names (if singular). Example: Andrew is my uncle. We’re having lunch with’ the’ Morgans tomorrow.
  5. Titles and names. Example: President Obama is going to Jakarta. ‘The’ Pope.
  6. After the ‘s possessive case. Example: His sister’s bag.
  7. Professions. Example: He’ll probably go into medicine.
  8. Names of shops. Example: I’ll get the card at Century.
  9. Years. Example: Do you remember 1998?
  10. Uncountable nouns. Example: War is destructive.
  11. Names of individual mountains, lakes, and islands. Example: Have you visited Lake Toba?
  12. Most names of towns, streets, stations, and airports. Example: She lives in Florence.
  13. Some fixed expressions. Example: by car, by train, on holiday, at work, in bed, etc.

Compiled by at on August 19, 2011

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