When it comes to using ‘definite and indefinite articles’, this grammar concept in English is a lot easier to use and master when compared to other languages such as French, German, and Spanish. There are only four examples of definite and indefinite articles in the English language so it is pretty easy to remember them all. Most other languages tend to have more than ten unique articles, definite and indefinite, compared to the four that are commonly used in English.
On top of all that, there is only one definite article used in English, which is quite surprising considering how diverse and versatile the language is especially when it comes to structuring a sentence in different ways. While not the most interesting of grammar topics, both definite and indefinite articles are used so often that it’s necessary to master both their formation and usage in order to become a better English student.
You may be asking yourself: What exactly is an article? That’s a good question with a simple answer. Any definite and indefinite article whether it’s ‘a, an, some, the’ can be used to give information about the noun in a noun phrase. A noun phrase usually includes a noun and an adjective together with the article coming before both the noun and the adjective to form the complete basis of the sentence. I’ve listed below two examples of a noun phrase (article, adjective, and noun):
- The brown paper bag
- A golden retriever
If you so choose to use a noun phrase, remember that they can also include numbers, possessive adjectives or demonstratives such as this, that, those, these, etc. When it comes to the purposes of the definite and indefinite article in the English language, there are quite a few of importance that you should be aware of.
Definite and Indefinite Articles should:
- Tell us how many of a person, place, or thing that you’re dealing with. (a, an à for one, some à more than one)
- Tell us if the noun being referenced is a specific one or a general one.
- Show the reader or the audience listening that the noun is being introduced for the first time or has appeared before and is a familiar one from a story or another paragraph.
Now that we know what definite and indefinite articles are used for, let us take a look at the similarities and differences between the two types of articles.
When it comes to indefinite articles, there are three of them total. Two of them are to be used with singular nouns and the other one is for plural and uncountable nouns. Singular nouns use the indefinite articles of ‘a’ and ‘an’ that go with the next word, which has to be singular in nature. Unlike other languages whose articles depend upon factors such as gender, spelling, and other factors, the only thing that matters for indefinite articles in this case is the numerical value of the noun being referenced.
Also, when it comes to the next word, the indefinite article ‘a’ is used with nouns that begin with a vowel sound and the other indefinite article ‘an’ is used with nouns that start with a consonant sound. Here are some examples below of ‘a’ and ‘an’ being used with nouns and adjectives to form noun phrases.
- A poor man
- A green jacket
- A public beach
- A private university
- An apple
- An unbelievable party
- An hour
- An ostrich
When it comes to plural nouns, there is one specific indefinite article that is to be used with the noun and/or adjective. The indefinite article in this case is ‘some.’ This indefinite article of ‘some’ can be followed by any kind of adjective, adverb, and uncountable or plural noun as long as the noun phrase can be completed successfully.
Let us take a look at some examples with the indefinite article ‘some’:
- Some brave men
- Some courteous women
- Some money
- Some black hair
There are numerous examples you could use with ‘some.’ You are not restricted with the usage of nouns as long as they are plural and uncountable in their nature.
When it comes to the reasons for using the indefinite article like ‘a, an, some’, there are two main ones:
-You are introducing a noun for the first time.
For example: A boy learns how to ride his bike.
-The specifics of the noun are not important. The noun ‘boy’ is simple and direct.
For example: Can you go to the supermarket and pick me up some milk?
-The indefinite article ‘some’ with milk doesn’t refer to any particular brand or kind of milk, just ‘some milk’ in general making it easier for the person doing the grocery shopping.
Indefinite articles are not usually supposed to be used for specifics and are much more general in their formation and usage. When it comes to definite articles, that’s a different story however.
Luckily, there’s only one definite article that we need to cover in this blog post and that’s the very popular word of ‘The.’ ‘The’ is very flexible in terms of both its’ formation and usage within a sentence. You can use ‘The’ for singular, plural, and uncountable nouns making it very versatile. Both the reader and the writer should have a good understanding though of what the word ‘the’ is being used for. There are three main uses for the definite article of ‘The.’
- You have introduced it already in the story or paragraph. “The old man, Jerry, thought about his future, and decided that he needed to retire.”
- There is only one of ‘the’ object, person, or place in existence and is unique in its’ existence as well. “I visited The Roman Coliseum last summer and it was magnificent.”
- You have to describe which thing you are specifically talking about or referencing. “Let’s pop open The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc to celebrate your recent college graduation!”
Here are some examples of the definite article, ‘The’:
- The red fox
- The happy students
- The scary truth
- The kind doctor
When it comes to the similarities that definite and indefinite articles have in common, it is important to remember that ordinal numbers can be used with both ‘a, an, the’ under different circumstances.
- A third book
- The second floor
- An eighth of an ounce
Lastly, the innate differences between definite articles and indefinite articles can be summed by the fact that a definite article like ‘The’ can be used with specific places such as rivers, monuments, cities, and countries themselves while ‘A, an’ are used with general objects, groups of people and places.
While not the most popular or well-known grammatical subject, having a good grasp on definite and indefinite articles will help you immensely to become a better English language student.