We use a/an with countable singular nouns
- In the meaning ‘one’:
He was waiting for her for an hour.
- To refer to indefinite things, one of many people/things, one of many
He sat on a chair.
Please, bring a plate.
Could you call a waiter, please?
- At the first mentioning of a thing/person
I watched a good film last night.
I bought a book and a T-shirt as Christmas presents for my friends.
- With jobs
She works as an accountant.
- To describe frequency
I go to the gym twice a week.
It can also be used as a synonym for per with price/weight (5 pounds a kilogram) and speed (60km an hour).
- After phrases there is…, this is…, I have… (in most cases):
There’s a bus stop near here.
- In exclamations ‘What a/an +(adj)+noun’ (with countable nouns):
What a sunny day!
- In expressions such a.., quite a…, rather a…
It’s such an easy question.
We use the with countable/uncountable nouns, singular/plural nouns
- to refer to a particular person/thing:
I cleaned the car yesterday (my car).
It is clear from the context/satiation which one exactly we mean (the listener knows which person/thing is meant):
– Where are you going?
– I’m going to the supermarket. Do you need anything?
(both people understand which supermarket is meant – the one in that area).
They are the authors of this book.
a)There is often a relative clause (who/which/that):
Have you watched the film that I told you about?
b) We use the in expressions with of: the wall of the house;
c)We use the with things in a particular room: the door, the light, the floor, the carpet:
Turn off the light, please.
Why are you sitting on the floor?
Could you close the door, please?
- at the second/further mentioning of a person/thing:
I bought a book and a T-shirt as Christmas presents for my friends. The book was for Paul and the T-shirt for Emily.
- with unique things, e.g. the sun, the moon, the earth, the sky, the ground, the horizon, the equator, the cosmos, the Internet etc.
- to talk about people having unique positions, e.g. the Pope, the president of Russia, the head of the company, the winner of the competition etc.
- with the following nouns:
The sea, the ground, the country, the environment,
The cinema, the theatre,
The past, the present, the future
The doctor, the police, the government
In/by the morning/afternoon/evening
- with superlative adjectives, e.g. the tallest, the most energetic
- with ordinal numbers: the first, the second
BUT: with nouns + number we use no article: platform 3, room 15
- with the following words: the same, the right, the next, the only (as an attribute), the previous, the upper, the very (= the exact as an attribute), the wrong, the central, the coming, the following, the last, the left, the main, the whole;
- before the names of musical instruments: the piano, the guitar
- to talk about species or the whole class of things/inventions:
The kangaroo is found only in Australia.
The rose needs rich soil.
The bus is an eco-friendly kind of transport.
The telephone was invented in 1875.
The computer is a necessary research tool.
But: Uncountable nouns take no article in such cases:
Dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel.
Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.
- with adjectives to talk about groups of people: the rich, the poor, the elderly, the unemployed;
- with nationalities as a whole: the British (the British people), the Chinese (the Chinese people).
- with family names indicating the whole family: the Browns;
- with decades: the 30s, the 40s.
- with parts of the world: the south, the north.
- with last/next if not with time expressions: the last meeting, the next election.
Compare a and the
One of many things/people
Have you got a car?
She took a book.
Have you found a job?
A specific thing/person
Have you cleaned the car?
There is often a relative clause:
She took the book that was on the top.
Did you get the job you’d told me about?
The first mentioning
I saw a woman and a child sitting opposite me.
The second/further mentioning
The woman was reading and the child was eating ice-cream.
With plural nouns, with uncountable nouns
No article is used to refer to people and things in general.
We use it
- with meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner
But: we use a+adj+meal:
We had a very nice dinner.
- with nouns + number: platform 3, room 15
- with midnight, midday, noon, dawn (or the dawn)
We started celebrating at midnight.
- in expressions: at home/work, go home / to bed, go to sea/be at sea (=to be on a voyage)
He works on ships. He’s at sea now.
But: I’d like to live by the sea.
- with prison, hospital, university, college, church, school to refer to the general idea of these places and the purpose they are used for:
He’s in prison for smuggling.
Her friend is in hospital after the accident.
After finishing school I went to university.
They go to church to pray every Sunday.
But: we use the when we refer to them as buildings/institutions not in the meaning of the main purpose they are used for:
She went to the prison to visit her uncle.
She works in the hospital.
Excuse me, where is the university?
The workmen were repairing the roof of the church.
- with space in the meaning of ‘space in the universe’:
His dream is to go to outer space.
- with means of transport: to go/travel by car/taxi/bus/plane/train/air
- with means of communication: to contact/communicate by post/email/phone
- with names of holidays, special times of the year, months, days of the week:
We met on Monday.
They visited us on New Year’s day.
I love skating in winter.
But: She came on a Wednesday (one of Wednesdays).
It was the winter when we went to Finland.
- in expressions next/last + time expressions: week/month etc.
- with languages: English, Russian.
But: the English language, the Russian language
12. with school subjects: physics, Math.
Compare no article and the
No article (in general)
The (specific people or things)
Children learn languages fast.
We took the children to the cinema.
She adores music.
Do you remember the music from this show?
All women love receiving flowers.
All the women at the ceremony were wearing dresses.
Salt is not good for health.
Can you pass me the salt, please?
Italians cook very well.
Who are the Italians standing there?
Do you like coffee?
Did you like the coffee we had at the café yesterday?