All About Articles In English Grammar

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In an earlier blog post, provided you with a nice overview of all the word classes or parts of speech in the English language. Based on this, we started a series of articles that explore all of these word classes in a lot more detail than has been possible in the overview. This article is also part of the series.


This article will explore a small and easily forgotten word class: articles. Lets find out what an article is and what it is used for. Learn how to distinguish them from other word classes.


Articles In The English Language


What Are Articles?

This word class is, sometimes, also known as articles. In English, an article is a word that occurs in combination with a noun. However, in other languages whole phrases or even just affixes may take on the role of an article.

Articles are used for referencing a noun or noun phrase in a given context. English has only a very limited number of articles which will be listed below.

the, a, an


Definite & Indefinite Articles

The articles mentioned above can be grouped in two different groups: indefinite and definite articles. Below, we explain when and why a definite or an indefinite article is used, illustrating the explanation with examples.


English has only one definite article nowadays: the. It is used in a sentence to refer to something or someone that is known in the context. This can be because the item or person was mentioned before, is implied or generally known. It can be used with nouns in both plural and singular.

The Queen of England.


Instead of only one, English has two indefinite articles: a and an. They are used when referring to something that is not known in the context yet. Usually, it can be read as one but without the emphasis on the exact number. They can both only be used with singular nouns.

She fed her dog a treat.
He gave the horse an apple.


A & An

Both indefinite articles are used for the same function, but in different contexts.


An is used in front of nouns that start with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u). Note that this has nothing to do with the actual spelling of a word. While university may orthographically start with a u, it is pronounced differently; [ˌjuːnɪˈvɜːsɪti]. Likewise, words like honesty that start with a h orthographically, still require the article an due to the pronunciation; [ˈɒnɪsti].

In all other cases, a is used as the indefinite article.


Gender-Sensitive Articles

This does not affect the English language, but in some languages, the articles are actually marked for gender. Both French and German are two examples for languages that have different definite articles depending on the gender of the noun they are accompanying.

Der Hase (the rabbit, rabbit being a masculine noun)
Die Katze (the cat, cat being a feminine noun)
Das Haus (the house, house being a neutral noun)

La chatte (the cat, cat in its feminine form)
Le baiser (the kiss, kiss being a masculine noun)
L’enfant (the kid, the article being abbreviated because the noun starts with a vowel)