English wRIting Consultant (ERIC)
How to use “A”, “An” or “The”
By Binbin Xu
April 4, 2017
A, An and the are articles in English. A and An are indefinite articles and are used when referring to something for the first time. The is the definite article and is used to refer to specific objects.
- Here are the rules for when to use “A, An or The”:
- a = indefinite article (not a specific object, one of a number of the same objects) with consonants. E.g. When introducing some term or idea in the introduction:
- Data Jacket (DJ) is a technique for sharing information about data and for considering the potential value of datasets.
- an = indefinite article (not a specific object, one of a number of the same objects) with vowels (a,e,i,o,u)
- Can I have an apple?
- She is an English teacher.
- the = definite article (a specific object that both the person speaking and the listener know)
- The car over there is fast.
- The teacher is very good, isn’t he?
- The first time you speak of something use “a or an”, the next time you repeat that object use “the”.
- E.g. SLAM is a computational projection technology.
- DO NOT use an article with countries, states, counties or provinces, lakes and mountains except when the country is a collection of states such as “The United States”.
- He lives in Washington near Mount Rainier.
- They live in northern British Columbia.
- Use an article with bodies of water, oceans and seas –
- My country borders on the Pacific Ocean
- DO NOT use an article when you are speaking about things in general
- I like Russian tea.
- She likes reading books.
- DO NOT use an article when you are speaking about meals, places, and transport
- He has breakfast at home.
- I go to university.
- He comes to work by taxi.