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The adjectives a, an and the are usually called Articles.
A or An is called the indefinite article, because it usually leaves indefinite the person or thing spoken of; as
A doctor; that is, any doctor.
The is called the definite article, because it normally points out some particular person or thing; as
He saw the doctor; meaning some particular doctor.
The indefinite article is used before singular countable nouns.
a book, an orange, a girl.
The definite article is used before singular countable nouns, plural countable nouns, and uncountable nous, e.g.,
The book, the books, the milk.
A or An
The choice between a and an is determined by sound. Before a word beginning with a vowel sound, an is used; as
An ass, an enemy, an orange, an umbrella, an hour, an honest man, an heir.
It will be noticed that the words hour, honest, and heir begin with a vowel sound, as the initial consonant h is not pronounced.
Before a word beginning with a consonant sound, a is used; as
A boy, a reindeer, a woman, a yard, a horse, a hole, a university, a union, a European, a ewe, a unicorn, a useful article.
Words such as university, union etc. begin with a consonant sound yu, even though they begin with a vowel letter u. Therefore we use an before them.
Similarly we say a one-eyed man because one begins with the consonant sound of w.
Use of the definite article
The definite article the is used:
1. When we talk about a particular person or thing, or one already referred to (that is, when it is clear from the context which one we mean); as,
The book you want is out of print. (which book? The one you want.)
2. When a singular noun is meant to represent a whole class; as,
The cow is a useful animal.
3. before some proper nouns
(a) Oceans and seas e.g. the Pacific
(b) Rivers, e.g. the Nile
(c) Canals, e.g. the Suez Canal
(d) Deserts, e.g. the Sahara
(e) Groups of islands, e.g. the West Indies
(f) Mountain ranges, e.g. the Alps
(g) Some countries, e.g. the United Kingdom, the Netherlands
4. before the names of certain books; as
The Iliad, the Vedas
5. before names of things unique of their kind; as,
The sun, the sky, the ocean
6. before a proper noun when it is qualified by an adjective or a defining adjectival clause; as
The Mr. Roy whom you met last night is my uncle.
7. with superlatives; as,
This is the best book of elementary chemistry.
8. with ordinals
He was the first man to arrive.
9. before musical instruments; as,
He can play the flute.
10. before an adjective when the nous is understood; as,
The poor are always with us.
11. Before a noun (with emphasis) to give the force of a superlative; as,
The Verb is the word (= the chief word) in a sentence.
12. as an adverb with comparatives; as,
The more the merrier.
Use of the indefinite article
The indefinite article is used:
1. in its original numerical sense of one; as,
Twelve inches make a foot.
2. in the vague sense of a certain; as,
A John Mathew (= a certain person named Johan Mathew) is suspected by the police.
3. in the sense of any, to single out an individual as the representative of a class; as,
A pupil should obey his teacher.
4. to make a common noun of a proper noun.
A Daniel come to judgement! (A Daniel=a very wise man).
Complete the following sentences by filling in a or an or the as may be suitable.
- …………….. banyan is a kind of fig tree.
- ………….. darkest cloud has a silver lining.
- Not …………… word was said.
- A cow is …………. useful animal.
- The more they get, …………… more they want.
- …………. bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
- Let’s go to ………… park by the river.
- I took ……………. orange from the refrigerator.
- There is …………… university in the capital city of the country.
- My father is …………… honest man.
- The banyan is a kind of fig tree.
- The darkest cloud has a silver lining.
- Not a word was said.
- A cow is a useful animal.
- The more they get, the more they want.
- A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
- Let’s go to the park by the river.
- I took an orange from the refrigerator.
- There is a university in the capital city of the country.
- My father is an honest man.