The Indefinite Articles


Created by Malcolm Pemberton on OpenOffice.org Writer/Web

The Indefinite Articles (‘a’ and ‘an’) are essential to good writing.

Without articles, writing sounds like Tarzan talking.

‘A’ or ‘an’? Really – this is easy!

‘An’ goes before a vowel sound.

‘A’ goes before a consonant sound.

(‘A’ can be pronounced: ‘u’ as in ‘cup’, or ‘ay’ as in ‘say’,

it depends on the next sound, but it is not really important.)

We use ‘a’ or ‘an’ for countable nouns.

An elephant is a kind of animal.

A cat is an animal commonly found in a home.

A hotel used to be called an hotel, but this is now history 🙂

We use ‘a’ or ‘an’ when we mention something for the first time.

(We then use ‘the’ when referring to the person or thing again.)

A black cat ran across the road in front of a car.

The cat was unhurt, but the car crashed into a tree.

The tree was unharmed, but the car was badly damaged.

The manager of the company sent a report of workplace accident to Head Office.

The report stated that a worker had been hurt in a fall.

The fall had not been so bad, but the worker had been taken to hospital.

We can use ‘a’ or ‘an’ instead of ‘one’ (the number).

Please go and buy a loaf of bread and a tin of spaghetti. (This sounds natural.)

Please go and buy one loaf of bread and one tin of spaghetti. (This sounds too precise.)

You cannot say ‘a bread’ or ‘a spaghetti’. They are uncountable.

Here are some examples of how to deal with uncountables:

I bought a loaf of bread and a milk(‘A milk’ is short for ‘a carton of milk’. It is acceptable in speech.)

He gave me a good piece of advice/information.

The movie star wheeled her seven pieces of matching luggage through the airport.

There was a lot of furniture in the room.

There were many pieces of furniture in the room.

I went to the shop and I bought…

Two cartons of milk, a loaf of bread, a packet of butter, a tub of margarine, and a packet of sliced ham.

I also bought a packet of razors, two bars of soap, a tube of toothpaste and some deodorant.

(For some reason, we don’t try to make deodorant countable.)

I should have bought a bag of flour, a bottle of juice and a kilo of rice, but I forgot.

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