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Using the article correctly in English is not easy. Fortunately, if you make a mistake with the article it doesn’t usually affect meaning.
Even if we leave out all the articles in a sentence, it is usually possible to understand it:

Would you mind lending me kilo of sugar until end of week?


Nevertheless, it is better to use the article correctly if possible. So, when should we use the definite article (the), the indefinite article (a/an) and when should we not use an article at all?

Read the following rules and study the examples.

THE DEFINITE ARTICLE (THE)

1. Use with inventions and species of animals:
- When was the computer invented?

- The Indian tiger is now an endangered species.


2. Use with rivers, seas and oceans:
- The White Nile rises in central Africa

3. Use when there is only one of something:
- Isn’t the sky beautiful tonight?

4. Use with national groups:
- The Japanese have the greatest life expectancy.

5. Use with superlatives:
- She’s the most attractive girl in the office.
- The Japanese have the greatest life expectancy.


6. Use with nouns when it is clear and obvious what we are talking about:
- He’s been taken to the hospital.
- Would you mind passing the wine.
- Have you taken the dogs for a walk?


7. Use with nouns that have been mentioned before:
- We’ve got chocolate cake and cheesecake. - I’ll have the chocolate cake.

THE INDEFINITE ARTICLE (A/AN)

8. Use with jobs and professions:
- She’s a teacher.
- My brother’s an accountant.


9. Use with singular countable nouns (mentioned for the first time)
- I live in a flat in Valencia.
or when it doesn’t matter which one:
- Can I borrow a pen?
- Would you like an orange?


NO ARTICLE (THE 'ZERO' ARTICLE)

10. Use with uncountable, plural and abstract nouns when we are talking about people or things in general:
- I like red wine. (uncountable)
- I hate ginger biscuits. (plural)
- Life is good. (general) – *Note: The life of Cervantes. (specific)


11. Use with most streets, villages, towns, cities, states, countries, lakes and mountains:
- Did you walk down 5th Avenue?
- I live in Barcelona.
- My dad was born in Portugal.
- Mount Rushmore is in South Dakota.


(Note: For countries and groups of islands in the plural we use the: The United States, The Philippines, The United Kingdom, The Seychelles...)

Now match the above rules (1 – 11) with an example sentence below. The first one has been done for you.

a) I’ve always wanted to go to Dublin.
b) What’s the fastest way to lose weight?
c) Why do the Chinese eat with chopsticks?
d) Have you ever been diving in the Indian Ocean?
e) We are polluting and destroying the Earth for future generations.
f) I don’t like girls who smoke.
g) I’ve always wanted to be a musician.
h) I went sailing yesterday and saw a dolphin.
i) The cheetah can run as fast as 100km per hour.
j) My dad used to own a café. It wasn’t a successful business, but I loved going there because the café was situated in a great place, right in the centre of London.
k) I won’t be able to have coffee with you right now because I’ve got to go to the bank.

Answers Check your answers

Complete the following sentences with a, an, the or (-) when no article is needed.

1. Don’t forget to turn off television before you go to bed.
2. accountant is man who is hired to explain that you didn’t make money you did.
3. Save water, shower with friend.
4. Carol was one of nicest people I’ve ever known.
5. Writing about art is like dancing about architecture.
6. Let me give you piece of advice, live life well.
7. Is that new laptop you bought last month?
8. I love acting. It’s so much more real than life.
9. It seems to me that young people are so rude these days.
10.Did you enjoy your holiday in Cairo?
11.Can we see photos you took in Mexico?
12.In any relationship I think it’s important to have trust, loyalty and honesty.
13. Who opened window?
14. As far as I’m concerned, oranges are the only fruit.
15. banker is a man who lends you umbrella when sun is shining, and takes umbrella away from you when it rains.
16. Why do you think English drink so much tea?
17.We crossed Lake Michigan by ferry.
18. California is great place if you happen to be orange.
19.My brother David’s just got job as software designer.
20. death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.
21. I always pass on good advice. It’s only thing to do with it because it’s never any use to me.

Answers Check your answers

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