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English Language Hints


Articles: the words, a and an and the.               


Do Articles change the meaning of words? - the answer is: yes they do.


I gave John a book shows only that you gave him one book and you have not specified what sort of book it was.


I gave John the book means that you are referring to a book you and he had discussed before, or that you had mentioned in the conversation previously. It is still only one book, but not an unspecified one - you are talking of one book in particular - we both know which book.


Another use of the is to describe things when it is understood there is only one - and a specific one.


The moon means the moon we all see every night - similarly, the stars are what all of us see in the sky.  The refers to things which are shared knowledge between us. I'm going to the bank means the bank I normally use.


A child may say to his mother, 'Today, the teacher gave us some work to do.'


What does he mean by the teacher?

- He means the teacher in his class and not another teacher - and his mother understands that too, because she has certainly spoken with the child about the teacher.


Why did I write the child in the last sentence?  - Because I'm speaking about the child mentioned in the sentence:


`A child may say to his mother...' That means any child.


Sometimes, there  is no a and an   - this is when we talk of things we can't count.


We don't say a sugar, we say some sugar or a kilo of sugar, because you can't count sugar. You can only count grains of sugar!


How can any learner of English help himself when it comes to the business of learning to use articles?


I would recommend that you read, read and read some more, and also listen carefully to people when they speak. While you are doing these things your brain is absorbing the subtle differences.


Here's a tip!

When learning new words, always think of two words. Learn a book; an egg.


Lastly, if you are Spanish, or a Spanish speaker, remember you don't go into a cafe and order 'One coffee, please' - that means 'I really do not want two coffees!' You should ask for 'A coffee, please'.


How good are you at articles?

Try this Cloze to put a, an or the into the spaces.




  1) a restaurant. There are many. This is just one of them

  2) a cigarette. There are many in a packet. They're all the same.

  3) the waitress.  The waitress in that restaurant and not another place.

  4) a glass. Just one. And not a special one.

  5) The beer. The one you ordered, not another one.

  6) the cigarette. The one you lit, not another one.       

  7) A friend. You have many - you're going to telephone one.

  8) A piece. You have said nothing about it before.

  9) the phone. The one you mentioned before.

10) a telephone number. You've said nothing about it so far.

11) the number - it's not any number, it's the number of the girl.

12) the office. We say this because we mean `the office' where I work.

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