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A, An, or The? Clearing Up Some Confusion About Definite and Indefinite Articles in English.

There are three articles in English: a, an, and the.

The first two, A and AN, are called indefinite articles.

The third, THE, serves a more specific purpose. And since choosing which one to use in a sentence can be confusing, TextRanch has decided to address the topic!

Please fasten your seat belts as we go on another ride through the world of English learning!

Article 1- A

A” comes before a singular noun when that noun fulfills two conditions.

First, it has to be countable and nonspecific (it means “one of many”, not a specific one).

Second, it must start with a consonant sound.

A nonspecific noun is general and not particular. Also, when an adjective precedes a noun, the article is placed behind the adjective.


I’d like to buy a laptop.

Do you have a car to drive?

Let’s bake a tasty cake!

Article 2- An

As the second indefinite article, “an” is used in the exact same way. However, the difference is that it comes before nouns/adjectives that begin with vowel sounds.

Forward slashes are so handy when two words are equally suitable in a sentence. Put one in between options to include both (e.g., “he/she” or “and/or”).


I sliced an apple.

He is an expert pianist.

Can she play for an hour?

Note that even though “hour” begins with a consonant, it takes “an” since the “h” is silent, therefore it is a CONSONANT with a VOWEL SOUND. Instead you should say “In a hurry” (like “Sorry, I’m in a hurry. Could we do this interview tomorrow?”) since in this case the “h” is not silent and has a CONSONANT SOUND.

Article 3- The

Known as the definite article, “the” appears before specific nouns (one of one) or a topic that has already been mentioned. To show you what this means, let’s consider an example:

I adopted a puppy.

“A” was used here because puppy is a general count noun.

There are lots of puppies in the world, and this particular dog is just one of many. Now look at the following sentence:

I named the puppy Buster.

As you can see, “a” has switched to “the”. This happened because the puppy has already been introduced, and I am now referring to the specific dog that was adopted (Buster).

Here are some more examples:

The church near my house is big.

Did you watch the news last night?

Polar bears swim in the Arctic Ocean.

So, whenever you are referring to something specific, you should use “the”.

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