Lesson 4: The Ayes Have It
The Palace of Westminster. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Mgimelfarb, Public Domain
Let’s take another look at using articles
Start by thinking of how skilled you are at using articles and what might cause problems. Do you remember to use them in general? Do you know what kinds of nouns you do not use them with? Do you have problems choosing between a, an or the? How well do you do with more specific cases like names of places and such? You can also analyze your skills further in your learner diary.
There are many factors which determine how articles are used in English. Those include
- what the speaker or the listener knows
- their relationship with or attitude towards the thing or matter in question
- the context
- the situation
- the quantity of something
The indefinite article a/an
The most important thing to keep in mind is that a/an means one. Don’t use it with plurals.
Use a when the word immediately after it starts with a consonant sound and an when it starts with a vowel sound (not letter but sound).
a dog/ an elephant / a unit / an hour / an excellent car / a red apple
This is when a/an is used:
- something is mentioned for the first time or is unknown to the speaker
This is a
dog. This is an
I saw a dog in your yard. I saw an elephant at the zoo.
- you refer to one member or part of some larger group or quantity
Here’s Becky – she is a friend of mine.
- you use some type of a unit in expressions of time, quantity or price
I get paid once a
Add half a cup of water.
These shirts are a dollar a piece.
- talking about someone’s nationality, ethnicity or religion
Trevor is a Canadian.
John is an Inuit.
Xavier became a Christian.
Barb is a Republican.
- you refer to a species
A dog is a loyal friend.
- It is also used in set phrases such as have a go at something, take a break, go for a walk, make a mistake
I will have a go at golf someday.
The place of the indefinite article is usually before the noun and its qualifiers and quantifiers.
Dave and Sarah have a beautiful little girl.
However, there are some exceptions. The article comes immediately after the following words, before the adjective: half, such, what, quite, rather
half an hour (AmE: a half hour)
such a beautiful winter day
What a long train!
quite/rather a boring play OR a quite/rather boring play
NB. That was quite a song. (no adjective)
but place the article after the adjective when using as, how, however, too and so. That is how you would use the article correctly, but these structures are avoided especially in spoken language because they are rather clumsy.
I want as fast a car as yours. = I want a car as fast as yours.
How expensive a house did Bob and Leigh buy? = How expensive was the house Bob and Leigh bought?
You shouldn't buy it, however cheap a car it seems to be. = ..., no matter how cheap the car seems to be.
It was too big a job for my little kids. = The job was too big for my little kids.
This last one with so is quite outdated so use such a
It was so interesting a book that I couldn't stop reading it. = It was such an interesting book that...
The Definite Article
How the definite article the is pronounced depends on the word that follows it.
- If the next word begins with a vowel sound, the is pronounced [ðɪ].
- If the next words begins with a consonant sound, the is pronounced [ðə]
Sometimes if the is used to emphasize the matter being discussed, it is pronounced like before a vowel sound.
Niagara Falls is still the [ðɪ] honeymoon destination of choice for many.
The definite article is used when
- you are referring to something that has already been mentioned or is defined by the context
That’s the dog I saw in your yard.
The dog looked friendly.
Whose is the towel in my locker?
Let me show you to the door.
Open the window, please.
- you are talking about something that is unique or what everyone is familiar with
The sun is shining brightly today. (= our sun, not any sun in the universe)
The rain was very heavy but the wind was even worse last night.
- you are using the of phrase or a subordinate clause
Jennifer saw the house of her dreams last weekend.
The dog that I saw in your yard was brown and tan.
However, use the indefinite article a/an in expressions of quantity such as
Could I have a glass of water?
Use the with with superlatives, limiting modifiers or ordinal numbers
Who has the best pizza in this town?
That was the only time Richard had been scared in his life.
It was also the first time he had seen a bear up close.
Keep these in mind:
- the next day = the following day
- next week, next month, next year… = the one after this one
- the last = there won’t be another one after it, e.g. January 31, the last day of the month
- last week, last month, last year… = the one before this one
However, don’t use the when talking about how someone placed in a competition
Team Norway came in third.
Jack lives on 78th Street.
In addition, use the definite article when talking about the points of the compass and left / right
The north of Finland is sparsely populated.
Turn to the right after the fire station.
but leave the article out if the point of the compass is followed by a proper noun or if there is no preposition
Does northern Finland have snow year round?
The Johnsons were driving south.
and if left/right is not used with a preposition
We turned left before the fire station.
The is also used when talking about some things in our world but not with others – and sometimes you must use it or you must not…
the world / the universe / the horizon
nature / space
the earth / Earth (our home, the planet)
What on earth are you doing?
Moving on to institutions or public services:
the state, the police, the president, the military, the media, the radio
and the exceptions:
Let’s not forget adjectives when they are used to refer to a group
the good, the bad and the ugly
New technologies can help the deaf and the blind in many ways.
Now, back to nouns: use the when talking about playing musical instruments or the names of dances
Ray plays the guitar
The tango comes from Argentina.
and decades, centuries, time periods
the 21st century
the Renaissance, the Middle Ages
Remember to place the definite article before all of the modifiers
The Aztec worshipped the big shining ball called the Sun.
the exceptions being all, both, double, half and twice.
Laura sang all the way home.
Both the students were proud of their accomplishments.
This took double the time I had planned!
That’s because you were on the phone half the time.
The game costs twice the amount Jimmy has in his piggy bank.
One more thing: comparisons
Let’s invite all of our relatives – the more the merrier!
The sooner you learn these rules and lists by heart the better.
No article / Zero article
Don’t use a/an with uncountable nouns (U nouns)
I had tea this morning.
but use the when the uncountable noun or the context is defined
The tea I drank this morning was tasty.
Don’t use any article with the names of meals unless there’s an adjective.
The boys had breakfast at seven.
They had a huge breakfast.
Don’t use any article with any place, building or facility when talking about the activity done in it
Jenny goes to school in Sacramento.
unless you are talking about the actual building.
Rick takes Jenny to the school to play basketball on Friday evenings.
No article when talking about means of transport
by train, by plane, by air, on foot
or with words that form a close unit
They were announced husband and wife.
The same applies to nouns that follow kind of, sort of, type of, class of, variety of, species of
This kind of car is too small for your growing family.
What sort of person is he?
Which type of ring do you like better?
Articles are not used with the names of illnesses or diseases.
Margaret was cured of cancer.
Henry has epilepsy.
the exceptions being the most common ones
Matt has a temperature and a sore throat.
Tom complained about having a headache.
Proper nouns are an interesting group, especially when we consider geographical nouns. Generally speaking, articles are not used with the names of towns, countries or continents
Atlanta, Finland, Europe
the Hague, the Gambia, the Arctic, the Antarctic
Use the in these:
the Far East
the Middle East
the Arctic Circle
the Antarctic Circle
the South Pole
the North Pole
the Northern Hemisphere
the Southern Hemisphere
No article with
- the names of lakes or mountains
- the names of town squares, parks, airports, department stores
- the names of magazines
However, the definite article is used with the names of
- newspapers published in English
The New York Times
- hotels, restaurants, theaters, concert halls, galleries, museums and such
The Fat Duck
the London Palladium
the Metropolitan Opera
- railways, routes, tunnels, vehicles, vessels
the Orient Express
The is used in some names of bridges but not all
the Golden Gate
the Sydney Harbor Bridge
but do use the in the names of oceans, seas, rivers and deserts
the Atlantic Ocean
the Mediterranean Sea
the Sahara Desert
In addition, use the definite article in names with a plural noun, e.g. countries and mountain ranges
the Netherlands, the United States, the Alps, the Rocky Mountains
and also when the name includes isle, district, region, empire, kingdom, republic, state or union
the Isle of Man
the District of Columbia (but D.C)
the United Kingdom
the Republic of Finland
Don’t use an article if an acronym is pronounced as a word
but use the definite article when each letter is pronounced
the EU – the European Union
the NHL – the National Hockey League
One more thing: titles – use the with titles as such
but don’t use one if you add the name of the person
A summary in Finnish:
For more details and examples, please see for example this website:
Exercise 4.1 Articles
Add articles where needed. If no article is necessary, mark it with a hyphen (–).
Last year my friend Jim, former exchange student from green island of Tahiti visited parts of Central and South America. Among his stops were Panama, Bahamas and Kingston, beautiful capital of Jamaica. He also saw some of most famous sights in South America, including Amazon, Lake Titicaca, Ancohuma, which is one of highest peaks in Andes and Machu Picchu, ancient city of Incas. He spent some time picking coffee on farm in Colombia. farmer also grew fruit: oranges and grapefruits. oranges on farm were much sweeter than ones you find on shelves of grocery stores in Helsinki. coffee in South America was also different from ours. After trip, which lasted for almost year, Jim said that although he felt tired, he wouldn't have missed experience for world, and that feeling of happiness surpassed exhaust.
Exercise 4.2 Articles – Fill in
Choose the right alternative (-, a, an, the).
To visit beautiful town of London has always been dream I have wanted to fulfil. However, I have heard that even London has its problems. For example, people in Britain feel that society should help unemployed more than they do at moment, but some people have been forced to look for work elsewhere. Therefore, some have moved across English Channel to Netherlands and some all way to Germany just to be able to work. Yet, families of unemployed are not able to make visits to see their loved ones, because trip would be too expensive. Moreover, Prince of Wales has been criticized for taking part in conversation about housing systems for unprivileged. Prince Charles has supported plans to build new houses and rent them to families without permanent place to stay. It will be interesting to see how this plan will develop. I wouldn’t want to be pessimist but somehow it seems to me that plan will not come true. I do not believe human nature will suddenly change so much for better because nature is ruthlessly being exploited by human beings and people do nothing to stop this. In short, sooner we realize that this cannot continue better.
Visit this website for more practice:
Englishpage.com / Articles
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Tom Arthur, CC BY-SA 2.0
Vocabulary – Listen and practice
|Lesson 4: Vocabulary|
Exercise 4.3 The Political System of Finland
Review how to talk about the Finnish government and political system in English for example at this website:
Tehtävä arvioidaan S/K.
Next, put the words in the correct order in these sentences:
Photo: Pixabay / tpsdave, Public Domain
Exercise 4.4 Match the word with its definition
Read the words on the list and match them with the definitions.
Tehtävä arvioidaan S/K.
Exercise 4.5 Interpreting data
Go to this website:
Find out the vote on some issue in the EU Parliament or the EU Council. You will find the necessary data under Latest Votes. You don’t need to read any articles, just look at the numbers and graphs. Explain the outcome of the vote in 100 words. Remember to provide a direct link to the vote details.
Tehtävä arvioidaan arvosanalla 4-10.
Submit your text here:
Otavan Opisto / Heli Viitanen, Tarja Männikkö, Arto Silén