Articles A, An and The

English is one of the only languages to use different articles in front of different nouns. An article is not always required. The three main articles that English uses is a, an, and the. They are divided into “definite” or “indefinite” forms.

Definite Indefinite
the a, an

Definite articles are used when the subject of the sentence is known. Indefinite articles are used when the subject is general or unknown.

An example of a sentence when referring to a specific or known subject would be: “I saw the rabbit in my yard.” An example of a sentence when referring to a general or unknown subject would be: “I saw a rabbit in my yard.”

A few more examples include:

the (definite) a, an (indefinite)
  • Gabby loves the dog.
  • We want to go to the zoo.
  • Ann ironed the shirt.
  • Where did you put the pizza?
  • The woman read the book.
  • I love a dog.
  • I like going to a zoo.
  • I bought a shirt.
  • I want to buy a pizza.
  • A woman read a book.

Using a, an, or the is dependent on the situation, not the word. For example:

  • She is taking a class later. “A” means the class she is taking is unknown.
  • She is taking the class later. “The” means that she is taking a specific class. It is probably the class that she and another person are talking about.

Articles With Count(Countable) and Non-Count Nouns

There are many different rules for the use of articles for count and non-count nouns. Follow the rules when deciding which one of the three articles you should use.

Count Nouns

  • The, a, and an can all be used for count nouns.
  • An article is required for all singular count nouns.
  • The first time a count noun is used or introduced, use the word “a” or “an” most of the time.
  • The second or following times after a count noun has been used, use the word “the”.

Non-Count Nouns

  • There needs to be a container word in front in order to use all three articles for non-count nouns.
  • If referring to a non-count noun in general or when it is first introduced, do not use an article.
  • When the subject is known, use “the” with non-count nouns.

Here are a few examples of how to use articles with count and non-count nouns:

  • I would like a dog.
  • I want the dog at the animal shelter.
  • She wants to read a book at the library.
  • That is the book she wants to read.

An exception is when a non-count noun is being used as a count noun. Here are a few examples:

  • He would like to drink the tea. The is used since the tea is known. Tea is a non-count noun in this example.
  • She would like a tea . A is used since it is referring to “a cup of tea”. The container word cup is implied, making it a count noun. It is always better to use container words, but when speaking informal English, people usually use non-count nouns as count nouns.

A Or An Based On Sound Of The Word

Many times when students are studying English, they may accidentally follow the rule to use a in front of a noun that starts with a consonant and an in front of a noun that starts with a vowel. The rule is:

  • If a word begins with a consonant sound, use a.
  • If a word begins with a vowel sound, use an.

The rule states words instead of nouns because sometimes container words or adjectives may be placed in front of the noun. Take a look at the following examples:

  • My dad is a firefighter.
  • I am a doctor.
  • There is an open book on the table. An is used since the adjective open is in front of the noun book. The is used because the noun table is referring to a specific table.
  • It will be an hour before the food is ready. An is used because the h is silent at the beginning of the word hour, making the word sound like it begins with a vowel.

Prepositions

Prepositions are words that express a relation or location to another word. They help words with other words. They usually come before nouns and pronouns and help explain their relationship. Here are a few examples with the preposition in bold while the nouns and pronouns are in italics.

    • The baby rolled onto her back.
    • The fish swim under water.
    • I work with my friend.

The One Rule for Prepositions

There is only one rule for prepositions with no exceptions.

The rule is that prepositions are never followed by verbs, only nouns.

Nouns, proper nouns, pronouns, noun groups, and gerunds are included in this rule.

Here are more examples for you to look at:

Subject + verb preposition noun
The dog is sleeping on its bed.
The cow jumped over the moon.
She is drawing on paper.
The cat climbed up the tree.
The pig rolled in mud.
He studied before a test.

Prepositions of Place

When a preposition to describe the position of a noun in relation to another noun is used, this is called using a preposition of place.

Take a look at the picture:

Look at this chart that further explains the prepositions in the picture:

Preposition Explanation Example
on Attached, surface of something and touchable He is sitting on the chair.
in Within or inside of something The food is in the fridge.
over/above Higher than something The sun shone above the mountains.

The fish swam over the net.

under/below Lower than something Her shoes are below the table.

He slept under the blanket.

in front of The part of someone or something that faces forward The fence is in front of their house.
behind At the back of The boy stood behind his mom.

Prepositions of Time

There are three main propositions of time:

  • at is used when we refer to a precise moment of time.
  • in is used when we refer to long periods of time.
  • on is used when we refer to different days or dates.

This chart includes some examples:

at in on
Precise Time Months, Years, Centuries, and Long Periods Days, Dates, Events, and Holidays
My son has a game at six o’clock. My son has a game in October. My son has a game on Saturday.
My child was born at midnight. My child was born in the ‘90s. My child was born on Halloween.
We had dinner at the restaurant. We had dinner in November. We had dinner on Thanksgiving Day.
I didn’t have much energy at work. I didn’t have much energy in the 21st Century. I didn’t have much energy on Christmas.
The party starts at midnight. The party starts in a year. The party starts on Halloween night.

 

Do not use the words at, in, or on if you use the words last, next, every, or this.

  • They graduated last month. (not in last month)
  • I will be there next time. (not in next time)
  • He drives his car every day. (not at every day)
  • She will be there this week. (not in this week)

For Prolonged Time

Use the following prepositions when talking about prolonged or extended time: during, for, since, by, (with) in, from – to, from – until.

  • I eat eggs during in the morning. (For some period of time in the morning.)
  • She worked for six hours. (She is working for six hours now.)
  • They have been living here since last year. (They started living here last year and are still living here now.)
  • We will stop studying by nine o’clock. (We will stop studying up to a certain time or at the latest by nine o’clock.)
  • I expect a thunderstorm within this week. (The thunderstorm will arrive before the week is at its end.)
  • Katie will be in school from August to May. (School starts in August and ends in May.)
  • It rained from eight in the morning until noon the next day. (Beginning in the morning at eight and ending at noon the following day.)

Used To Introduce Objects For Verbs

Use the words for, at, and of to introduce objects of the following verbs.

Verb + For + Object

Verbs: watch, wait, wish, call, look, hope

  • Everyone was watching for the eclipse last month.
  • The students were waiting for class to end.
  • The children wish for snow in the winter.
  • The agent will call for the actress after dinnertime tonight.
  • I am looking for the stars through the telescope.
  • She hopes for a passing grade on her test.

Verb + At + Object

Verbs: glance, look, laugh, rejoice, smile, stare

  • The teacher glanced at the students’ homework.
  • The boy looks at his mother.
  • The girl was laughing at the clown.
  • She rejoiced at getting a new job.
  • The wife smiled at her husband.
  • You do not want to stare at the sun.

Verb + Of + Object

Verbs: approve, consist, smell

  • The children approved of their dinner.
  • The banana pudding consists of bananas, milk, cookies, and vanilla pudding.
  • The kitchen smells of cookies and cake.

Of (about): dream, think

  • Many people dream of winning the lottery.
  • What do you think of before falling asleep?
  • She is thinking about starting a new career.

Using ‘To’ in the Infinitive

Keep in mind that you will see sentences like “She likes to shop.” This is an example of the verb in the infinitive form. That is the reason for the to.

  • The horse ran to the finish line. (to as a preposition)
  • He likes to read reference books. (to used as an infinitive)
  • The children went to school. (to as a preposition)
  • My dogs love to eat. (to used as an infinitive)

 

Prepositions of place

Preposition of place Explanation Example
in
  • inside
  • I was born in a hospital.
  • I work in an office.
  • They got married in a church.
  • The bear sleeps in the cave.
  • The man is sinking in the water.
  • We waited in line.
  • The dog lay in the sun.
at
  • used to show an exact position or particular place
  • events
  • place where you are to do something typical (watch a film, study, work)
  • The children met at the park.
  • We had dinner at a restaurant.
  • I spend a lot of time at work.
  • They go to school at the university.
on
  • attached
  • next to or along the side of (river)
  • used to show that something is in a position above something else and touching it.
  • left, right
  • a floor in a house
  • used for showing some methods of traveling
  • television, radio
  • Look at the picture on the wall
  • The boat sails on the Tennessee River.
  • He got a tattoo on his arm.
  • The food is on the table.
  • Their house is on the right side of the street.
  • Our bedroom is on the second floor.
  • Do you want to travel on a plane, bus, or automobile?
  • Let’s watch a show on television/listen to a song on the radio.
by, next to, beside, near
  • not far away in distance
  • The girl stands by the bus stop.
  • The house is next to the stop sign.
  • He stood beside the tree.
  • The creek is near the campsite.
between
  • in or into the space which separates two places, people or objects
  • The horse stood between the two trees.
behind
  • at the back (of)
  • The alley is behind the building.
in front of
  • further forward than someone or something else
  • The car is parked in front of the house.
under
  • lower than (or covered by) something else
  • The dog crawls under the fence.
below
  • lower than something else.
  • The basement is below the house.
over
  • above or higher than something else, sometimes so that one thing covers the other.
  • more than.
  • across from one side to the other.
  • overcoming an obstacle
  • He held the jacket over his head.
  • The ring costs over $1,000.
  • We drove over the railroad tracks.
  • He climbed over the wall.
above
  • higher than something else
  • higher than and to one side of; overlooking.
  • in extended space over and not touching.
  • The bird flies above the tree.
  • The cloud are above the sun.
  • The bridge spans above the river.
across
  • from one side to the other of something with clear limits / getting to the other side
  • The cat darted across the road.
  • She swam across the lake.
through
  • from one end or side of something to the other
  • She ran through the puddle of water.
to
  • in the direction of
  • bed
  • My wife went to England.
  • The children go to bed at eight o’clock.
into
  • towards the inside or middle of something and about to be contained, surrounded or enclosed by it
  • The dog ran into the gate.
  • The man pulled the horse into the stable.
  • We walked into our house.
towards
  • in the direction of, or closer to someone or something
  • We walked towards the storm.
onto
  • used to show movement into or on a particular place
  • The cat jumped onto the bed.
from
  • used to show the place where someone or something starts.
  • We ran from the shop to our house.

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