Posted by: Jack Henry | December 17, 2014

Editor’s Corner: The Third Day of English

On the third day of English

My true love gave to me

The articles “a,” “an,” and “the.”

There are three articles in English, but only two types: definite and indefinite.

· Definite Article: The
Use the word the to signal that you are talking about a particular noun or nouns.


o The quiche that Joe brought was as light and as fluffy as his chef’s hat. (In this case, we are talking about a specific quiche, the quiche that Joe brought.)

o Jane Marie says she always goes to the teller with the dark hair and blue eyes because he’s handsome and he smiles at her. (Jane Marie doesn’t know the name of her dreamy teller, but she is still talking about a specific guy—the one who smiles at her.)

· Indefinite Articles: A and An
Use the words a or an to indicate that the noun you are talking about is not specific.


o Sandy asked us to bring a dessert to the party. (In this case, the noun is dessert, but we don’t know what specific type of dessert. We could bring a cake, a pie, or even figgy pudding!)

o After falling down the stairs, Richard screamed, “I need a medic!” (Richard isn’t asking for a particular medic, he just needs some help—stat!)

Example of definite and indefinite articles together:

o I found an egg in the Christmas tree and realized Grandpa had mixed up his holidays again. Ten minutes later, Grandma was worriedly rushing around the house, asking if I’d seen the egg.

“Which egg, Grandma?” I asked. Then I told her, “There’s one in the tree.”

“You know,” she said on the verge of tears, “the Fabergé egg.”

Note: Whether you use a or an before a noun depends on the sound the noun begins with.

From the Purdue OWL:

· a + singular noun beginning with a consonant: a boy; a car; a bike; a zoo; a dog

· an + singular noun beginning with a vowel: an elephant; an egg; an apple; an idiot; an orphan

· a + singular noun beginning with a consonant sound: a user (sounds like ‘yoo-zer,’ i.e. begins with a consonant ‘y’ sound, so ‘a’ is used);a university; a unicycle

· an + nouns starting with silent "h": an hour

· a + nouns starting with a pronounced "h": a horse

· In some cases where "h" is pronounced, such as "historical," you can use an. However, a is more commonly used and preferred.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

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