Grammar Lesson 101: Definite, Indefinite, and No Articles

July 22, 2019 by IELTS

One of the more challenging aspects for English language learners is the use of articles. Articles are a tricky part of learning the English language because they are used to modify some nouns, but not all. Knowing when and how to use articles is key to English mastery.

Definite Articles

When speaking or writing about a specific member of a group, a definite article — the — is used. The definite article can modify either a singular or plural noun but does not vary depending on its use. For example:

  • The clothes need to be hung out to dry. The clothes mentioned in this sentence belong to the group of all clothes, but these particular ones need to be hung out to dry.
  • She left her book in the bedroom. The room in this sentence refers to a specific bedroom out of a group of all bedrooms.

It's worth noting that if an indefinite article — a/an — is used when the subject noun is first mentioned, then the article changes to “the” when the noun is mentioned again.

Ex: She left her book in a bedroom. The bedroom is locked.

Indefinite Articles

When speaking or writing about a general, non-specific noun an indefinite article — a/an— is used to modify a single count noun.

When a word begins with a consonant, use the indefinite article “a”. The definite article “a” can also be used to make generalized statements about any member of a group of nouns. For example:

  • A car passed by. A single non-specific car passed by. Which car does not matter, since it was one out of a general group.
  • A test will be given to students. This is a generalized statement about all tests.

When a word begins with a vowel or a silent “h,” like in the words “honour” or “honest” the indefinite article “an” is used. For example:

  • It was an honour to meet you. Honour is a single count noun that begins with a silent “h”.
  • An apple fell from the tree. Apple is a single count noun that begins with a vowel.

No Article Required

When deciding whether or not an indefinite article should be used, one must first determine if the noun being modified is something that can be counted or not. For instance, items like books, chairs, hats are all items that can be counted, whereas things like feelings — sadness, bravery — cannot be counted. When a noun cannot be counted, no article is used.

Neither a definite nor an indefinite article is required when:

  • Using proper nouns, like place names or language names.

For example: she speaks French.

  • Making generalized statements about plural nouns.

For example: Plants need water.

  • Using abstract nouns. Abstract nouns are nouns that can be conceptualized, but not sensed.

For example: Education will bring you success.

It's worth noting that while most proper nouns do not require an article, there are certain exceptions to this rule. When naming a specific area or region, a definite article is required.

Knowing when and how to use definite and indefinite articles can be tricky at first. But by using a few simple tricks, you will master them in no time. If you need further assistance in preparing for your IELTS exam, please feel free to explore our blog and website further or contact your nearest IELTS Test Center today!

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