ARTICLES: When to use and not to use them

As easy as they may seem, some students fail to use Articles appropriately in their sentences, if at all.

Here are the rules to help us understand better the use of A, AN and THE:


This may be used both for singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific or particular.


  1. The book that I read yesterday was fascinating. (This sentence refers not just to any other book but “the book”. We are talking of a specific book.)
  2. Our grandparents own the houses built here. (This sentence refers not to just any other group of houses, but “the houses”. We are talking of specific houses.)

A and AN

They are used for naming singular nouns, which we refer to in a general sense.


  1. I always eat a piece of apple everyday. (It could be any apple.)
  2. Mary and John brought an umbrella yesterday. (It could be any other umbrella)

Compare the above with the following sentences:

  1. I always eat the apple that my mom gives me. (This is not just any apple. I only eat he apple that my mom gives me.)
  1. Mary and John brought the umbrella that they saw in the store yesterday. (This is not just any umbrella but that which Mary and John saw in the store.)

There is NO NEED to use Articles in the following instances:

A and AN

1. NOT used in plural nouns


Children often like outdoor games. (We are referring to “children” in a general sense; “children” is plural so we do not use A nor AN)

However, we can say:

The children I used to play with were very friendly. (We are referring to a particular group of children so we use the article “the”)

2. NOT used in uncountable nouns


Sugar is sweet. (We are referring to “sugar” in a general sense; Sugar, being an uncountable noun, is regarded as singular unless a quantifier is present)

However, we can say:

A spoon of white sugar is enough for one cup of coffee. (“sugar” becomes a countable noun because of the quantifier “a spoon of”, so we use the Article “A”)

The jars of sugar that my friend gave me are lost. (We are referring to particular “jars of sugar” so we use the Article “The”. The quantifier “jars” makes the sugar countable)


1. NOT used in names


Beijing is one of the busiest cities in Asia. (We don’t say, “The Beijing is one of the busiest cities in Asia)

Alexander Graham Bell discovered what we now know as telephone. (We don’t say “The Alexander Graham Bell”)

However, we can use THE in the following instances:

  1. Countries which are composed of island regions or whose names end in S;

Example: The Philippines, The Bahamas, The Netherlands

  1. Countries whose names include the words like republic, states or kingdom;

Example: The People’s Republic of China, The United States of America, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

  1. Geographical features, which may include bodies of water such as oceans and rivers, and land formations such as islands and mountain ranges;

Example: The Pacific Ocean, The Sahara, The Grand Canyon

  1. Famous architectural designs and buildings;

Example: The Great Wall of China, The Pyramids of Giza, The Starry Night (by Vincent Van Gogh)



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