Hello and welcome.
In this lesson, I will teach you the
seven rules that you need to know for using articles in
Articles are the words ‘a’, ‘an’, and ‘the’.
There is a final quiz at the end of the lesson for you to
test your understanding.
OK, the first rule is about where to use ‘a’ and where to
So rule number one is use ‘a’ before a consonant
sound, and ‘an’ before a vowel sound.
So in all of these words – you see that they start with a
Cat starts with /k/, dog
starts with /d/, boy with /b/, girl with /g/, house with /h/
and tree with /t/.
So we say ‘a cat’, ‘a dog’, ‘a boy’, ‘a girl’, ‘a house’, ‘a
Notice that in natural speech, we don’t say
‘a’, we say ‘uh’ – like ‘a cat’.
In this next set of words, you see that, they all start with a
vowel sound – apple starts with /ae/, engineer starts with /e/,
ice-cream with /ai/, old with /o/, umbrella with /uh/.
So we say ‘an apple’, ‘an engineer’, ‘an ice-cream cone’,
‘an old woman’, ‘an umbrella’ and so on.
In speech, we don’t say ‘an’, we say /ən/.
Let’s do a small exercise.
You see ten items on the screen.
For each one, I want you to say if you would use ‘a’ or ‘an’
Stop the video, think about it, then play the
video again and check.
OK here are the answers.
Did you get them all right?
I want to focus on items number seven
to ten because these are a little tricky.
Number seven is ‘a university’ because even
though ‘university’ starts with the letter ‘u’ the first sound
of the word is not a vowel sound.
We don’t say /ooniversity/.
We say /yoo-nə- vər-si-ty/ so that first sound
is a /y/ sound, which is a consonant sound, so we say ‘a
Number eight is similar.
The word ‘European’ starts with a
/y/ sound, so ‘a European tour.’
In number nine, the spelling has an ‘h’ at the start but
that ‘h’ is silent.
We don’t say /hau-ər/, we say /au-ər/.
The first sound is an /au/ sound which is a vowel sound,
so this is ‘an hour’.
In the same way, in number ten, we say
‘M’ starts with an /e/ sound which is again a vowel
sound, so ‘an MA in English’.
OK let’s move on to rule number two: Use ‘a’ and ‘an’ ONLY with
singular, countable nouns.
We say that a noun is countable if we can count it – one, two,
three, four etc.
All of these words on the screen are countable.
We can say one elephant, three cars,
ten teachers, five hundred onions and so on.
Now if you talk about one person or thing,
like one elephant or one car, then that’s called a
singular noun and if you say ten teachers or five hundred
onions, those are called plural nouns.
Uncountable nouns cannot be counted in this way.
Nouns like water, sugar, milk, love,
anger, knowledge are some examples.
If you think about it, you cannot say “I drank
four waters” or “I want eight milks”.
To a person, you can say “I love you” but you can’t
say “I have five loves for you” – that doesn’t make any sense.
So these are all uncountable.
Alright, so the rule is - you can only use ‘a’ and ‘an’ if
you’re talking about one person or one thing.
Let’s do another quick exercise.
Here are ten items again.
This time, you see ‘a’ or ‘an’ before the nouns, but
some of these are wrong.
They should NOT have ‘a’ or ‘an’
Stop the video, identify the mistakes, then
play the video again and check.
OK, here are the answers.
Number three is wrong because ‘shirts’ is a plural and you
cannot use ‘a’ or ‘an’ before a plural noun.
Number five is wrong because ‘happiness’ is
uncountable, so again, ‘a’ or ‘an’ cannot be used there.
The same goes for number six –
water is uncountable.
Number nine is wrong because ‘doctors’
is a plural – you can say ‘a doctor’ but not ‘a doctors’.
And finally, in number ten, advice is an uncountable noun –
so you cannot ask for ‘an advice’.
Now a quick note here: the article ‘the’ can be used with
all kinds of nouns – singular or plural countable nouns, and
OK, so let’s now talk about how to choose between ‘a’ or ‘an’
Here’s rule number three: Use ‘a’ or ‘an’ to talk about a
person or thing unknown to your listener.
And use ‘the’ to talk about a person or thing known
to your listener.
For example, “My sister has two computers: a PC and a laptop.
The PC is quite old but the laptop is brand new.”
I say ‘a PC’ and ‘a laptop’ because
that’s the first time I’m mentioning the two computers.
That is, until this point, they are unknown to you, the
But now, I can say “The PC is quite old but the
laptop is brand new.”
When I say ‘the PC’, you know which
one I’m talking about: my sister’s PC.
And the same thing goes for the laptop.
So the PC and the laptop are now known to
In English, ‘a’ and ‘an’ are called indefinite articles
because they talk about something that the listener
doesn’t know about.
And ‘the’ is called the definite article
because the listener knows what you are referring to.
Here’s another example: but now, can you fill in the gaps?
It’s pretty simple: the first time I mention my tree, I’m
going to say ‘a tree’: so, “I planted a tree in my garden
Now you know about the tree, so I can say “The
tree has now grown big.”
Now this was easy because we were talking about one tree.
But what if I planted two, three or four trees?
Well you know that we cannot use ‘a’ or
‘an’ with plurals.
But we can mention the exact number.
We can say “I planted four trees
in my garden last year.”
Or if I don’t want to say the number,
I can say “I planted some trees.”
And then I can say “The trees have now grown big.”
‘The’ simply means that you know which trees I’m talking
In both of these examples, we first introduce something with
‘a’ or ‘an’ or ‘some’ and then we say ‘the’ because the
listener knows about them.
But sometimes, you don’t need ‘a’
or ‘an’ because your listener will automatically understand
what you are referring to.
For example, “Can you open the window?”
If we’re sitting in a room, and if I say this to you,
you will know which window I’m talking about.
Or if I said, “I need to go back home.
I think I left the stove on.”
That means, the stove might still be
burning, but which stove?
Well, you can understand from the
situation that I mean the stove in my house.
But this isn’t always possible.
For example, if I say “The man is my boss.”
You will ask – “Which man is your boss?”
But what about if I say “The man in the grey suit
is my boss.”
you know which one I’m talking about.
So here, we mention a noun with ‘the’ –
‘the man’ – and then we give information to identify that
noun – ‘in the grey suit’.
Here’s one final example: “Where’s the money I lent you
So I start with ‘Where’s the money’ and then I
say which money – ‘the money that I lent you last week’.
OK, let’s now talk about rule number four: use ‘a’ or ‘an’ to
talk about nonspecific things or people.
What does that mean?
Well, here’s an example: “Do you have
If I ask you this question, then it probably
means I need a pencil to write with.
Now I say ‘a pencil’ because I mean ‘any pencil’ - I
don’t care about any one specific pencil.
Compare this to the next sentence: “Do you
have the pencil that Kathy gave you?”
Here, I’m referring to a specific pencil.
Here’s another example, “I want to buy an apartment” ‘An
apartment’ means I haven’t decided which apartment.
Maybe I haven’t even started looking
for one, but I just know that I want to buy some apartment.
But look at this next sentence: “I
want to buy the apartment that we visited.”
So you know which apartment I’m talking about.
And here’s one last example, “If you’re feeling sick, you
should go and see a doctor.”
Maybe you’re saying this to give advice to a friend who
isn’t feeling very well.
Here, we don’t mean go and see a
specific doctor – we mean any doctor.
But let’s say your friend takes your advice and
goes to a doctor.
When you see your friend again, you might
ask “What did the doctor say?”
Why are we saying ‘the doctor’?
Because we mean that specific doctor who the friend visited.
So, notice again that we use ‘a’ or ‘an’ when we’re talking
about a person or thing in general, and not a specific
person or thing (for that, we use ‘the’).
Alright, let’s move on to rule number five now: use ‘a’ or
‘an’ to mention the category or type of a person or thing.
To understand this, I have a small exercise for you.
All of these sentences mention a
category of type of a person or thing.
But they’re missing the articles.
I want you to put ‘a’ or ‘an’ in the correct place in
each of these sentences.
Stop the video, think about your
answers, then play the video again and check.
OK, in number one - “My car is a 2011 Ford Fusion.”
So here, I mention ‘my car’ and then I
tell you the model of the car – ‘2011 Ford Fusion’ – that is
basically the type of car that it is.
So we use ‘a’ before it.
Number two is “You can use your TV as a laptop monitor.”
Here, the noun phrase ‘laptop
monitor’ says what type of thing your TV can be used as.
In number three, “Jim’s daughter is an intelligent
We say what type of girl she is – ‘an intelligent girl’.
Number four is “I’d like to become a member of your
After the verb ‘become’ you see that I’m
saying what category I want to belong to – ‘member of the
For this reason, ‘a member’.
We talk about professions in the same way: “I’m a teacher.”
(NOT “I’m teacher”).
A person’s profession says what category
they belong to, or what type of person they are.
So, you need to have ‘a’ or ‘an’ before the
Similarly, “He worked as a cashier for two
So to mention a type or category, use ‘a’ or ‘an’.
Alright, let’s now turn to rule number six.
This rule is about how to make generalizations.
That is, how to talk generally about a whole group or class of
people or things.
So rule number six is generalize with plurals or
uncountable nouns with no article.
On the screen, there are six sentences.
I’d like you to find all the plural and uncountable
Stop the video, do the exercise, then play the video
again and check.
OK, in number one, there are two plurals: ‘teachers’ and
Here, we are not talking about any one teacher
or one student in particular.
We’re saying that all teachers should be friendly to all
In number two, ‘dolphins’ is a plural noun.
We’re using it to say, generally, that all
dolphins are intelligent.
In number three, ‘horror movies’
is what I’m generalizing about.
I’m saying I hate all horror movies – not a particular one.
In sentence number four, ‘coffee’ is an uncountable
noun, and we use no article before it because, again, we
want to ask if Pablo likes coffee in general.
Number five has two uncountable nouns in
‘exercise’ and ‘health’.
We don’t use any articles before
them because this is a general statement of fact or truth.
And finally, number six is the same
kind of sentence – it also has two uncountable nouns –
‘education’ and ‘life’.
Now this is the common way of generalizing.
But there’s one another way of doing it.
With countable nouns, you can
generalize by using ‘a’ or ‘an’ with a singular countable noun
to mean every single one – that is every member of a group.
For example: “A teacher should be friendly to his or her
It has the roughly same meaning as when we say
‘teachers’ but it’s slightly different because it’s like
saying “Every teacher should be friendly to his or her
Here’s one more example: “The dolphin is a very
Again, same meaning as saying
“Dolphins” but we mean ‘every dolphin’.
So remember that this form – generalizing with ‘a’, ‘an’ or
‘the’ can only be used with singular countable nouns AND
when we mean ‘every single one’.
So I cannot say “I don’t enjoy watching a horror movie
or the horror movie.”
Here, only the plural form is
It’s the same thing with all the other sentences.
OK, let’s now talk about rule number seven: and that is where
to use NO article.
This is very important and this is one place where mistakes are
very common because there are many situations where you
should NOT use an article.
In a separate lesson we will focus
on all of these situations but here’s a short list.
We use NO article in front of proper nouns – that is names of
people or places.
We don’t say ‘a Steve’, ‘the Priya’ etc.
We just say their names without
It’s the same thing for places.
However, some place names have ‘the’ as part of the name.
Such as the United States, the
United Kingdom and so on.
With these, of course, you must use
We also usually use no article with names of games and
Then there are many fixed expressions that have no
article – you have to learn these through experience and
practice to use them correctly.
You see some of these on the screen.
It’s a good idea for you to memorize as many of
these as possible.
Alright, if you’re ready, now it’s time for a quiz to see if
you can use articles correctly.
On the screen, you see some sentences with blanks in them.
In each blank, I want you to put ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’ or ‘no
That symbol – a zero with a line through it is just
to say ‘no article’.
OK, stop the video, try the exercise,
then play the video and check.
OK, here are the answers.
You can stop the video and check
them with your answers if you like.
In the comments section, let me know how you many got
If you’re not sure about any of these, feel free
to ask me in the comments and I will help you out.
Alright, I hope you enjoyed this lesson.
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And I will see you in the next lesson