Level: beginner

We use the indefinite article, a/an, with singular nouns when the listener/reader does not know exactly which one we are referring to:

Police are searching for a 14-year-old girl.

We also use it to show that the person or thing is one of a group:

She is a pupil at London Road School.

Police have been looking for a 14-year-old girl who has been missing since Friday.

Jenny Brown is a pupil at London Road School. She is 1.6 metres tall, with short, blonde hair. When she left home, she was wearing a blue jacket, a blue and white blouse, dark blue jeans and blue shoes. 

Anyone who has information should contact the local police on 0800 349 781.

We do not use an indefinite article with plural nouns or uncount nouns:

She was wearing blue shoes. (plural noun)
She has short, blonde hair. (uncount noun)

The indefinite article 1

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The indefinite article 2

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The indefinite article 3

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We use a before a consonant sound:

a banana (starts with /b/) a university (starts with /j/)

and an before a vowel sound:

an orange (starts with /o/) an hour (starts with /au/)

Note that the choice of a or an depends on sound, not spelling.

The indefinite article 4

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Comments

Use of an or the?
The Bermuda Triangle which is also known as the Devil's Triangle is an/the area located on the North Western Atlantic.
Do we say an area or the area.
The argument is that since the area is already mentioned (the Bermuda Triangle ) it should be the and not an.

Hello Karen111

It depends on the context this statement was made in, but in any case the choice of article depends on the mention of the idea of an area in the Atlantic.

Imagine you open up an encyclopedia and you read out loud what you first see, and it is an entry about the Bermuda Triangle that begins with this sentence (though please note there should be commas after 'Triangle' and 'Triangle'). In that case, where it is being mentioned for the first time, 'an' would be the correct choice. 

On the other hand, if you were talking about different kinds of maritime zones and comparing their locations or characteristics, then 'the' would be the correct choice, since it's already been mentioned in the context you're speaking in.

Hope this helps.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

1. A cow is a pet animal.
2. The cow is a pet animal.

is the use of articles a & the correct in the above sentences.

Hello Sramit,
Both sentences are grammatically possible; the context and the speaker's intention will determine which is more appropriate.
The use of articles for general meaning is quite complex in English. I'll summarise it below:
~
>> a + singular countable noun <<

we can use this with general meaning when we are talking about something which defines the group. For example:

- An elephant is an impressive sight.

In other words, being an impressive sight is one of the characteristics of an elephant; if we saw an animal and it was not impressive then we could be fairly sure that it was not an elephant. We are talking about any elephant here - it is true of them all.
~
>> the + singular noun <<

we can use this with general meaning when we are talking about our image or concept of the noun. For example:

- The elephant can live for over sixty years.

Here we are not talking about a real elephant, but rather the concept of 'elephant' in our heads.
~
>> no article + plural countable noun or uncountable noun <<

we use this to talk about what is normal or typical of a type. It may or may not be true of all individuals but it is typical of most. For example:

- Swedish people are tall.

Here we are talking about the average height of Swedes, not any particular person or concept.
~
The distinctions are subtle but sometimes can be important. For example, we can say with general meaning:

Whales are in danger of becoming extinct.

- The whale is in danger of becoming extinct.

However, we cannot say:

- A whale is in danger of becoming extinct.

This is because being in danger of becoming extinct may be true but it does not define the whale.
~
I hope that helps to clarify it for you.
~
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please help me?
The child has been drawn into (a - the) life of crime but he is really a good child.
Which article is correct? Why?
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam

It really depends on what you mean and what the context is, but in general I'd probably use 'a' here, assuming that the idea 'life of crime' hasn't yet been mentioned.

I'm sorry if our answers are not quick enough for you. We are very busy creating new content these days, which is one of our highest priorities.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

Do the below sentences mean the same thing?

A lion is a ferocious animal.
The lion is a ferocious animal.
Lions are ferocious animals.

Also, Do these mean the same?

Computers that are infected by viruses should be taken to a technician.
The computers that are infected by viruses should be taken to a technician. (I feel like in this case, the sentence is about particular computers.)
A computer that is infected by viruses should be taken to a technician.

Hi Sam61

Ultimately, the meaning of words and sentences is dependent on their context, but in general, yes, those three sentences about lions mean the same thing, though, as I suspect you've already noticed, the use of 'the' here is not very common. In the other set of examples, you are right, 'the' implies that the person reading or hearing the sentence has already heard about the infected computers.

The definite article 'the' before 'lions' is used to speak about an entire class of living things or objects. In this case, it's lions, but it could be a species of plants, musical instruments, a make of automobile or even personal computers, but note that it wouldn't be appropriate to speak about infected computers, as that is not a class of computers but rather a smaller set of all computers. You would need to be speaking about all computers (e.g. 'The computer revolutionised communications in the early 21st century') for the use of 'the' to be appropriate, and even then, it would be more common to just say 'Computers' instead of 'The computer'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

So, do you mean that "a life of crime" and "the life of crime" are possible to say?
So what is the difference in meaning.
You haven't replied to my comment
Thank you.

Could you please help me?
Is the word "position" in the following sentence right to use or we should use another word.
The university has an international position as a centre of chemistry research.
Thank you.

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