Article Usage

A, An or The – An Introduction to Article Usage

March 15th, 2012 by

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Article usage errors are commonly noted issues that can crop up, regardless of a writer’s experience. An oft overlooked error, this can be set right by learning the bare basics: where, how and when to use articles.

Article Usage

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What are Articles?                                                 

To start off with, there are two types of articles in English – Definite and Indefinite Articles.

The’ is the only Definite Article and the Indefinite Articles are ‘a’ and ‘an’.

The article ‘an’ can be used when you wish to talk about an indefinite noun that begins with a vowel sound.

Articles precede the noun in question, and are placed either immediately before the noun or before the adjective or adjective phrase/clause used for the noun. In effect, articles denote whether the noun that’s mentioned is Definite or Indefinite.

Sounds tough? Here are a few examples that can help you understand this well:

Example 1: The day I graduated, I felt like an adult (definite article for a definite noun – not any day, the day)

Example 2: I had an egg for breakfast (indefinite article for an indefinite noun beginning with a vowel – one of many eggs)

(Note:An’ is also used for words beginning with a vowel sound like ‘an heir’ and ‘an honest man’)

Example 3: There is a doctor in the vicinity (indefinite article for a singular noun – an unidentified doctor)

Why Use Articles?

Let’s say that the Indian Prime Minister is involved in a car crash, and you read the following headline the next day in the newspaper:

A Prime Minister’s Car Crashed Into a Bank in New Delhi

It’s directly implied here that more than one Prime Minister was present and one of their cars crashed into some random bank. But that’s not what happened, is it?

Common Mistakes While Using Articles

Here are some sentences where the meaning can vastly differ depending on the article used. These are instances when writers tend to go wrong – as they face the dilemma of choosing the right one among two available options.

Let’s take two examples.

Example 1: Pass me a/the book (Which book? Should a specific book be passed or will any book do?)

Example 2: I want a/the job (Which job? Any job, or a specific job that has been previously mentioned?)

Proper article usage is a must as it can help clarify a point but may even confuse readers, if used irresponsibly. This is why it is important for you to learn where and how to use the right articles.

One Response to A, An or The – An Introduction to Article Usage

  1. Pingback: A, An or The – The Fine Art of Article Usage

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