A(n)/The: Help Understanding English Articles (The Definite & Indefinite Article)

Basic Differences between the Indefinite Article (a/an) & the Definite Article (the)

There are two articles in English: the definite article ('the') and the indefinite article ('a' or 'an'). Firstly, what do these words definite and indefinite mean when we talk about grammar?

definite = something that is clear; it is understood (by the listener)

indefinite = something that is not clear; it is unknown (to the listener)

When we use articles, we have to think about the person you are talking to (the listener). Generally, if we are talking about a noun (e.g. an apple) and the listener understands WHICH apple we are talking about, we use the definite article 'the'. For example, "The apple you have in your hand is red." In this sentence, the person only has one apple in his hand. So, the listener knows it is definitely, clearly, the apple that the speaker is talking about.

If the listener doesn't know what apple you are talking about, then we use the indefinite article 'a(n)'. For example, "I eat an apple every day." In this sentence, the listener doesn't know specifically what apple the speaker eats every day. The speaker eats one apple, but it's not clear (or unknown) which apple is eaten. (Also, it's not important!)

-- ----- --

Next, it is important if the noun in the sentence can be counted or not.

'A(n)' is used before a non-specific (indefinite) noun that can be counted.

This means you use it before countable things, like "a tree, an apple, a dog." Again, you should use "a(n)" when you are not talking about a definite (or specific) tree, apple, or job. You are just talking about one, any one. "I want a job" means "I want one job." You don't care what job you get; you just want one. A job = one job.

'The' is used before specific (definite) nouns.

These nouns can be countable (e.g. the tree) or nouns that cannot be counted (e.g. the power, the milk). The important thing here is that the nouns are definite (or specific). The person you are talking to knows what tree, power, or milk you are talking about. For example: "The sun is hot." There is only one sun. You must be talking about the sun, which is definitely the sun above Earth.

No article is needed before non-specific (general) nouns that cannot be counted.

If a noun cannot be counted and you are talking about it generally (not specifically), then no article is used. For example, "Love is great." or "I like rice." 'Love' and 'rice' are not countable, and the speaker isn't talking about a specific (or definite) love (e.g. The love a man has for his wife) or a specific rice (e.g. The rice in Thailand), so no article is needed.

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Useful Hint: A(n) = One

Remember that you should use "a(n)" when you can use "one" in the same place and the sentence will have the same meaning. This is a good rule that should make it easier if you are having troubles.

"Chicago is ___ city in America."

Can you use "one" here? Yes. America has many cities. The speaker wants to say that Chicago is one of the many cities in America. "Chicago is one city in America" has the same meaning as "Chicago is a city in America." That is what the speaker wants to say. So we should use the indefinite article "a(n)".

"Chicago is a city in America.  ___ city has 2.7 million people."

Can you use "one" here? No. You are talking about Chicago. If you said "One city has 2.7 million people.", the person listening to you would ask "What city?" It's the city of Chicago that has 2.7 million people. That's the city we are talking about. That's the city I just said in the sentence before that! (Are you listening?!) Specifically, the city (of Chicago) has 2.7 million people.

There are many rules with English articles. They can be difficult to use. But this rule should help.

Do you think you understand? Try this basic articles quiz!


Short Quiz on the Indefinite & Definite Articles in English

Sunday is  last day of the week.

I live in  apartment.  apartment has  kitchen,  bathroom, and two bedrooms.

Barrack Obama is  President of the United States. He has  wife and two children.

There are many fish in  Pacific Ocean.


Sunday is the last day of the week.

I live in an apartment. The apartment has a kitchen, a bathroom, and two bedrooms.

Barrack Obama is the President of the United States. He has a wife and two children.

There are many fish in the Pacific Ocean.

I bought  banana at the store.  price was very low.

I don't like  stress. I am healthy. I drink  water every day.

I don't have  energy to run 10 kilometres. I am  old man.


I bought a banana at the store. The price was very low.

I don't like stress. I drink water every day.

I don't have the energy to run 10 kilometres. I am an old man.

Related Lessons:

- Matthew Barton, EnglishCurrent.com

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35 comments on “A(n)/The: Help Understanding English Articles (The Definite & Indefinite Article)

  1. rainbow (Posted on 11-25-2013 at 03:56) Reply

    it is clearly to understand

    1. siddhi (Posted on 1-3-2016 at 07:34) Reply

      ya! you are right ra

  2. guadalupe (Posted on 3-17-2014 at 23:03) Reply

    It's amazing I really understood why I found the words other another confusing.


  3. David (Posted on 9-10-2014 at 07:27) Reply

    I think there’s a typographical error in the first paragraph. Excellent lesson though.

  4. Jose (Posted on 2-4-2015 at 17:01) Reply

    Great article!!!, very clear and concise.
    Just a minor technical detail in the quiz: It is not possible to select ’empty’ from the combobox. Needed for example in the sentence: “I drink water every day”.


  5. Esther (Posted on 5-1-2015 at 14:12) Reply

    Great lesson! but… there are a detail:
    Isn´t NONE from the box!!! or EMPTY… to select, and is needed!!

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 5-1-2015 at 15:45) Reply

      You’re right! I just fixed it. Thanks a lot Esther!

  6. Neetesh Raghuwanshi (Posted on 6-17-2016 at 08:36) Reply

    Great! A positive environment is being created by this website.

  7. nargiza (Posted on 1-16-2017 at 02:21) Reply

    it’s great job) that’s all understandably

  8. Anonymous (Posted on 3-9-2017 at 00:41) Reply

    really a great job!

  9. BUNU (Posted on 6-22-2017 at 08:32) Reply

    great lesson really helpful

  10. Lenin (Posted on 7-22-2017 at 11:06) Reply

    G²od one

    1. Christine (Posted on 7-14-2022 at 17:37) Reply

      Great lessons

  11. janaka (Posted on 9-28-2017 at 05:18) Reply

    nice work

  12. Willy (Posted on 11-23-2017 at 21:29) Reply

    Goodie, make me figure out some questions and the confusing things.

    1. Teacher (Posted on 5-13-2023 at 02:23) Reply

      It feels like I’ve discovered America with this rule of replacing A/An with One. Brilliant!
      Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  13. Sadmim (Posted on 6-14-2018 at 00:05) Reply

    i didn’t like your explanations.

  14. Sarita (Posted on 7-17-2018 at 08:04) Reply

    It is very helpful.

    1. Kamal negi (Posted on 12-9-2019 at 09:41) Reply

      Hi sir like ” i am going to temple. ”
      We don’t use any article before temple. Though temple is noun.
      Im confused when not to use article ..

      1. mb Post author (Posted on 12-9-2019 at 12:33) Reply

        Hello. The rules for ‘going to temple’ are the same as ‘going to school’. You do not need an article generally if you are talking about ‘going to temple’ for the activity of praying/worshipping, etc. In this sense, ‘going to temple’ is like an expression that means ‘going to pray/worship’. On the other hand, if you want to talk about going to a building, e.g. a temple, then you should add an article (a/the) temple.

        In summary, it is fine to say ‘going to school/church/temple’ when you are referring to going to do an activity, not going to a particular building.

  15. Sanjeet (Posted on 12-14-2018 at 02:15) Reply

    It is really so useful.

  16. Mohammed (Posted on 3-16-2019 at 13:28) Reply

    It’s was great homework and I don’t know what I said.

  17. Kirill (Posted on 5-18-2020 at 20:55) Reply

    It’s still not obvious for me…. Help, somebody, anybody!
    About using “The”, you are giving the example:
    You must be talking about THE sun, which is definitely THE sun above Earth.

    In this case, why don’t you put “the” before “Earth”? We definitely understand what “Earth” you are talking about. It is also the one and the only. Therefore, considering your explanation it should be “the sun above the Earth”, but it just “the sun above Earth”.

    1. Kirill (Posted on 5-18-2020 at 21:16) Reply

      Ok, I should have read all the articles before asking questions… If we use “Earth” with capital letter it becomes a “proper noun” and in this case we shouldn’t use definite article.

  18. TUSHkeissiFAM (Posted on 8-4-2020 at 11:05) Reply

    But if you use “The earth..” now it doesn’t have a capital letter. What yo doin now Kirill?

  19. Pedro (Posted on 3-13-2021 at 11:53) Reply

    Excelent lesson to learn

  20. Panya Pankaew (Posted on 8-23-2021 at 01:01) Reply

    No comments

  21. Vigron Inacio Namalia (Posted on 6-30-2022 at 01:33) Reply

    It is good work

  22. Nenalyn (Posted on 2-2-2023 at 22:05) Reply

    Thank you for this helpful exercises.

  23. Luisa Basilio. (Posted on 4-6-2023 at 16:34) Reply

    It is very good exercise.

  24. Gatluak Nhial Khor (Posted on 9-25-2023 at 07:53) Reply

    It’s very helpful

  25. Flávia Luís candieiro (Posted on 2-25-2024 at 07:50) Reply

    The exercise is very nice, I like it because help me to my perception end Lorne thenks.

    1. PB_the_Leader is the best US presidents channel (Posted on 6-16-2024 at 08:47) Reply

      ,,…end Lorne thenks´´ – Yeah you still have quite a lot of exercises to do.

  26. Elysée betembula (Posted on 3-6-2024 at 13:24) Reply

    It’s very important for me I would like to have more exercises please

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