Why study articles?
English nouns (words for a person, place, thing, or quality) have to be identified in some way. You use articles (a, an, the) in front of nouns to signal to the reader what you are referring to: a single entity, multiple or generic entities, or a specific entity. When used correctly, articles can add clarity to your writing.
Main problems of use
The main problems with English articles relate to the following:
when to use them and when to leave them out
which articles to use - indefinite articles (a or an) or the definite article (the) or no article (Ø)
the use of articles with countable nouns (nouns with plural forms; e.g. girl-girls, city-cities), uncountable nouns (nouns that do not have a plural form, e.g. news, work, information, equipment, knowledge, and proper nouns (name of a person, place, or thing, e.g. Auckland University)
If you do not yet make these decisions automatically, you need to think about
a) what type of noun you are using, and
b) what context you are using the noun in: specific (pointing to something exactly), general (referring to anything everywhere), or number (one or many).
View this presentation on the importance of articles in writing.
How well do you use articles?
Do the quiz on the next page to find out.
How well do you use articles?
Correct article use in the underlined expressions. Write out the text.
[Note: No answers are provided at this stage. The text reappears in Quiz 2 in another format. Save your work and then check it when you do Quiz 2.]
The Origin of @
Gloria Stabile, the professor of history at La Sapienza University in Rome, has demonstrated that @ sign, now used in email addresses, was actually invented 500 years ago. Professor Stabile has shown that @, now the symbol of the Internet, was first used by Italian merchants during sixteenth century. Stabile claims that the sign originally represented a unit of volume, based on large jars used for carrying liquids in the ancient Mediterranean world. He has found a first example of its use in a letter written in 1546 by the merchant from Florence. A letter, which was sent to Rome, announces the arrival in the Spain of ships carrying gold from South America. The professor argues that a @ sign derives from the special script used by these merchants, which was developed in sixteenth century. According to him, a loop around the 'a' is typical of that style. He found an evidence while researching a visual history of twentieth century.
Orignal Text from Bailey, S. (2003). Academic Writing: A Practical Guide for Students. London: RoutledgeFalmer. (p. 92, modified.)
The English Articles: A, An, The or None
Some common mistakes:
Missing (^) article:
e.g. ^Government is considering ^new law to restrict car ownership.
Article used when not needed:
e.g. The cats make the good pets.
e.g The car ownership is increasing in New Zealand.
e.g. XA /An understanding of logistics is valuable. .
She is paid at X a /an hourly rate.
e.g. X A /The government is considering X a/the new law to restrict car ownership.
e.g. Doing charity work gives people a / Xthe sense of achievement.
How to learn articles?
Articles precede nouns. Therefore, it is useful to begin by asking what kind of noun it is:
- Is the noun countable (has plural forms), uncountable, or a proper noun?
- Is the context in which the noun is used, specific (pointing to 'this/that one exactly), general (a general idea applying to all and everywhere), a single or plural entity?
View a flow-chart summarising these guidelines.
Quiz 2: Decision Tree
Article Decision Tree
For each sentence in the first box, decide which article should go in front of the noun(s) in bold italics. Click on the correct boxes on your way to find the correct article.
Even if you know the answer, complete the decision tree to check it.
The Origin of @
- Bailey, S. (2003). Academic Writing: A Practical Guide for Students. London: RoutledgeFalmer. (p. 92, modified.)
A or An? - Practice
The? No Article? : Practice
Go over this review before proceeding to the practice exercises or review the decision tree flowchart.
The definite article 'the' specifically points to a noun:
I was born on 1 April 1940, the third of six children. in the small village of Ihithe in the central mountains of Kenya. To the north, the great Mount Kenya cut into the skyline. My parents were poor farmers and members of the Kikuyu tribe.
The definite article 'the' is always used with:
superlatives (the best, the most famous)
unique references (the government, the moon, the planet)
regions and rivers (the south, the Waikato River)
very well-known people or group of people (the Nobel Prize winner; the Prime Minister, the Dean of the Arts Faculty)
positions (the middle, the first)
Not used with:
names of countries or institutions, except the USA, the UK, the University of Auckland and a few others; companies named after people or places (Auckland University, Bond and Bond, Harvey Norman, Smith & Caughey.)
NOTE: No article (X) is needed if
- the noun is already identified by a unique name (e.g. Auckland University, Auckland Domain)
- the noun is an uncountable noun referring to a concept, entity, or quality (e.g. education, kindness, gold)
- the noun is plural, referring to a generic category or class in general statements (e.g.X Computers are X useful machines.)
These final activities give you practice using articles in different contexts.
Correct any errors of article use in the underlined words OR insert missing articles.
Practical intelligence lends a hand
This year, the record numbers of high school students obtained the top grades in their final exams, yet the employers complain that young people still lack basic skills to succeed at work. Only explanation offered is that exams must be getting easier. But real answer could lie in the study just published by the Professor Robert Sternberg, a eminent psychologist at the Yale University in USA and the world's leading expert on intelligence. His research reveals existence of a totally new variety: practical intelligence.
Professor Sterberg's astonishing finding is that practical intelligence, which predicts success in the real life, has a inverse relationship with academic intelligence. In other words, the more practically intelligent people are, the less likely they are to succeed at the school or the university. Similarly, the more paper qualifications they hold and the higher their grades, the less able they are to cope with problems of everyday life and the lower their score in practical intelligence.
Source: Hopkins, D., & Cullen, P. (2007). Cambridge Grammar for IELTS with answers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Modified)
Answers in bold italic and explanation in brackets:
the record numbers (plural; generic) of √high school students (plural; generic) obtained the top grades (plural; generic) in their final exams, yet the employers (plural; generic) complain that √young people (uncountable; generic)still lack ^the basic skills (plural; specific) to succeed at work. ^The only explanation (singular; specific) offered is that √exams must be getting easier. But ^the real answer (singular; specific) could lie in the a study (singular; non-specific) just published by the Professor Robert Sternberg (titles), a an eminent (singular; non-specific; vowel sound) psychologist at the Yale University (Proper name) in √the USA and the world's (unique thing) leading expert on intelligence. His research reveals ^the existence (abstract; uncountable; specific) of √a totally new variety (singular; consonant sound): practical intelligence.
Professor Sterberg's astonishing finding is that √practical intelligence (abstract noun; uncountable), which predicts success in
the real life (abstract noun; uncountable), has a an (singular; vowel sound) inverse relationship with academic intelligence. In other words, the more practically intelligent people are, the less likely they are to succeed at the school or the university (human institutions; notions). Similarly, the more paper qualifications they hold and the higher their grades, the less able they are to cope with √/^the problems of everyday life (specific) and the lower their score in practical intelligence.
How well do you notice missing articles?
All required articles in the next two texts have been removed. Write out both texts, inserting the missing articles where you think they are required.
Text 1: Data description
Chart provides summary of average number of hours married men and women work every day both inside and outside of home. In both age groups shown, total number of hours worked by married women is greater than total number of hours worked by men. Whilst women aged 45 to 64 may work fewer hours inside home, they work greatest number of hours per day due to extra hours of paid work that they do.
Men aged 25 to 44 spend only slightly more time working outside of home than men aged 45 to 64, but this figure is significantly higher than number of hours of paid work that women of same age did.
Women in 25 to 44 age group work almost as many hours inside home as outside, and there is only slight difference in 45 to 64 age group. However, men work on average three times longer outside of home than inside.
(Source: Hopkins, D., Cullen, P. (2007).Cambridge Grammar for IELTS with answers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (pp. 97, 230. Modified)
Text 2: Chance, accident, mistake and madness. (Adapted from de Bona, E. (1993). serious creativity. Hammersmith, London: Fontana.
History of ideas is full of examples of how important new ideas came about through chance, accident, mistake, or "madness". Many of advances in medicine were results of accidents or chance observations. First antibiotic was discovered when Alexander Fleming noticed that mould contamination in Petri dish seemed to have killed off bacteria; thus penicillin was born. Process of immunology was discovered by Pasteur when assistant made mistake and gave weak dose of cholera bacteria to some chickens. This weak dose seemed to protect them even before fuller dose was given.
Missing articles in bold italic:
- The chart provides a summary of the average number of hours X(no article; plural, generic) married men and women work every day both inside and outside of the home. In both age groups shown, the total number of hours worked by married women is greater than the total number of hours worked by men. Whilst women aged 45 to 64 may work fewer hours inside the home, they work the greatest number of hours per day due to the extra hours of paid work that they do.
(No article;plural, generic) XMen aged 25 to 44 spend only slightly more time working outside of the home than men aged 45 to 64, but this figure is significantly higher than the number of hours of paid work that women of the same age did.(no article, plural, generic) XWomen in the 25 to 44 age group work almost as many hours inside the home as outside, and there is a only slight difference in the 45 to 64 age group. However, X men work on average three times longer outside of the home than inside.
For a refreshing look at articles, go to ELE online and view a resource entitled "Articles Afresh".
Construct your own practice exercises!
Copy a paragraph from your own textbook or course readings, but leave out the articles. Then without looking at the original, reconstruct the paragraph by putting the articles back in. Finally, check your answer with the original.Do this often enough and you WILL start to notice the missing articles and also understand why you need to put them in.