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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
  • phrases


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 elephant.
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 month.
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 2010s
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 Equator
the South Pole
the North Pole
the Northern Hemisphere
the Southern Hemisphere

No article with

  • the names of lakes or mountains

Lake Michigan
Loch Lomond
Mount Everest
Mount Columbia

  • the names of town squares, parks, airports, department stores

Trafalgar Square
Central Park
Heathrow Airport

  • 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 Ritz
The Fat Duck
the London Palladium
the Metropolitan Opera
the Louvre
the Smithsonian

  • railways, routes, tunnels, vehicles, vessels

the Orient Express
the Titanic

The is used in some names of bridges but not all

the Golden Gate
the Sydney Harbor Bridge
Tower Bridge

but do use the in the names of oceans, seas, rivers and deserts

the Atlantic Ocean
the Mediterranean Sea
the Thames
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

the Pope
the President
the Queen

but don’t use one if you add the name of the person

Queen Elizabeth

A summary in Finnish:
Articles (pdf)


For more details and examples, please see for example this website:

The indefinite article
The definite article
Zero article



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.



Practice more

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
nation representative legislative power
national majority executive power
nationality minority judicial power
indigenous peoples crossbencher legislature
sovereign opposition legislation
sovereignty persuade legislator
autonomy vote budget
independence voter negotiation
patriot constituency revenue
patriotic coalition constitution
parliamentary democracy law
election campaign republic jurisdiction
electoral establishment justice
universal suffrage institution jury
political party presidential veto


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:

Parliamentarism in Finland

Tehtävä arvioidaan S/K.

Next, put the words in the correct order in these sentences:


about are in there hundred municipalities Finland three


a the local back goes more self-government years history more of than thousand


right on own have municipalities the matters the to their decide


every the of voters years council four members municipal the elect


municipal the members committees the and municipal elects council municipal the board of the


residents basic must their Finnish services their provide the statutory municipalities


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.

1. Amendment A. The practice of attempting to persuade members of Congress, Parliament, and government to support, oppose or change particular policies and actions by the government.
2. Bipartisanship B. A group that advises the president or that of senior ministers at the head of the government.
3. Cabinet C. Collaboration between members of two major political parties.
4. Debate D. A country where the government assumes the main responsibility for the promotion and protection of the economic and social security of its citizens.
5. Federal system E. Power is divided and shared between different levels of government, i.e. the central government and state and local governments.
6. Filibustering F. An official counting of the population.
7. Interest group G. An organization of like-minded people who work together to promote a cause by influencing the government.
8. Lame duck H. A vote of the whole electorate for the approval or rejection of a single issue.
9. Lobbying I. A change (an alteration or addition) to some detail or details in the Constitution, motions or bills.
10. Primary J. A formal discussion of a specific proposal involving opposing viewpoints.
11. Referendum K. A person who holds a political office but won’t return to office after the end of his/her term because of term limits, defeat in an election or retirement.
12. Voter turnout L. Making exceptionally long speeches to obstruct parliamentary business or to prevent a particular measure from passing.
13. Welfare state M. A person who exposes wrongdoing such as corruption e.g. in a government agency.
14. Whistleblower N. An election within a party to choose its candidates for an upcoming election.
15. Census O. The percentage of eligible voters who choose to vote in an election.


Exercise 4.5 Interpreting data

Go to this website:
VoteWatch Europe

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


© 2015 Otavan Opisto