Indefinite and Definite Articles: Definition and Examples



Introduction

English Grammar employs the use of something known as indefinite and definite articles so as to change the way we perceive a certain noun. Any or all nouns require some form of articles before them, especially if they wish to identify as specific, singular, or general. An article, therefore, much like an adjective, in a sense that it describes the noun. If you’ve paid attention to the paragraph we wrote, you’ll find we’ve used words like ‘the’, ‘an’, and ‘a’. That is your first introduction to articles.

Understanding the Different Types of Articles

As aforementioned, articles are much like adjectives. They describe a noun. But what exactly do they describe? Is it the quality of the noun, the quantity of the noun, the dimensions, the structure, or the compatibility of the noun with a verb? If I were to pose a sentence before you, could you describe the nature of the sentence?

The earth revolves around the sun.

Sounds like a statement, does it not? It is assertive, shows that the sentence is supposed to provide the reader with some seemingly important information, and the sound of the sentence is rather confident. Do you not think so? It would be right to conclude that the sentence is a fact. A specific, informative fact.

Example

Take a look at a new sentence. A man walks his dog. This sentence is also providing the reader with some form of important information. It looks like a fact but is rather pleasant when we read it again. ‘Man’, the subject walks ‘his dog’, the object. Here we can understand that the information mentioned is not about a specific man, it is about a random man who is walking his dog. The writer of the sentence, ‘A man walks his dog’, may not have any relation with the subject. The ‘a’ in the sentence also implies that it is a single man who is walking his dog. Now answer a question, how many earths or suns are out there? One, two, three, a few thousand, or more? Do you think the reason why refer to earth with the article ‘the’ is because there might be just one earth? But then, why did we not write, ‘A earth revolves around a sun?’, because we’ve mentioned that ‘a’ implies singularity. Or better yet, why not say, ‘An earth revolves around a sun’? Seems complicated, doesn’t it? Keep going to learn why a single article can change the entire meaning of a sentence and how to avoid that.

Definite article: The

‘The’ is a definite article. Definite here suggests that ‘the’ is used with a specific piece of information. It emphasizes the importance of the information and allows the writer to hint that they have some relation to the subject in the sentence.

Example

The neighbours are noisy. This sentence has the same meaning as, ‘Our neighbours are noisy.’. The sentence hints at a formal or informal relationship between the reader and their neighbours.

In the same way, the article ‘the’ can be used to emphasize a specific piece of information or universal fact. When we took the example of, ‘The earth revolves around the sun.’, we were putting across a universal fact.

‘The’ can also be used to avoid repetition in sentences. For example, I used a tube of moisturizer yesterday. The moisturizer has a soft creamy texture with a primer base. Here ‘the’ has been used to avoid repetition of the article ‘a’. It also suggests that the noun has become familiar, hence specific to the reader.

Some more examples include −

  • I have a blue pen. The blue pen is from the Maldives.

  • I enjoy a good cup of coffee as much as you do. The coffee, however, should be sweet.

  • I would buy a grey sweater. I would match the grey sweater with a black skirt.

Indefinite article: A

‘A’ is the easiest article on the list. It is indefinite and is only used with nouns beginning with a consonant. A consonant is an alphabet that is not a, e, i, o, u. ‘A’ is often attached to nouns that are general and not specific. For example, I want a house. ‘A’ here refers to the idea of buying a house. What kind? We do not know. Hence, we go with the article ‘a’. Even if we were to attach some quality to the sentence, it would still utilize the article ‘a’ as the house is not specifically ours or has a sense of familiarity to it.

Example 1

I want a big and roomy house with a high ceiling.

‘A’ is also used for singular objects or nouns.

Example 2

‘He has a pen in his bag.’.

Some more examples include −

  • I want to go to a park.

  • I wish to go to the party with a friend by my side.

  • I like having a cup of coffee early in the morning.

Indefinite article: An

‘An’ has all the qualities of ‘a’, except it is used only with vowels.

Vowels in the alphabet are a, e, i, o, u.

FAQs

Qns 1. Can a sentence employ the use of all three articles?

Ans. Yes. A sentence can employ the use of all three articles.

For example, ‘A man is walking by the sea while eating an apple.’

Qns 2. Is it grammatically correct to use the article ‘the’ with a singular object?

Ans. While it is not prohibited to use the article ‘the’ with a singular object, it is very important to check whether the object is familiar to the reader. Both ‘The pen has a cylindrical shape’ and ‘A pen has a cylindrical shape’ are grammatically correct sentences but the use of ‘the’ implies that a pen, in particular, is cylindrical while the use of ‘a’ implies that all pens are cylindrical. This is a direct exception to the rule which states that the article ‘the’ is used with universal facts.

Qns 3. Can we use ‘a’ with vowels?

Ans. Yes. The placement of the article is determined by the pronunciation and not the actual spelling.

For example, the word ‘university’ is pronounced ‘yu-nee-ver-city’. Therefore, the article used here is ‘a’.


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