'THE' and 'AN'

The Definite and Indefinite Articles

 'A' and 'AN'


            In English, every noun must have 'the' or 'a' or 'an' in front of it.

            What is a noun?

            A noun is a 'naming word', the name of something.

            So, 'cup', 'cat', 'table'. 'television,' 'coat', street', 'photo', 'police', are all nouns. they are all the names of things.

               I am drinking from a cup. I drank from the cup.

            I am brushing the cat. I stroked a cat.

            I am writing at the table. I put a glove down on a table. I put the gloves down on a table.

            It was on the television. I want to buy a television.

            I bought a coat. I hung up the coat.

            The car turned into a street. A car turned into the street.

            I looked at a photo. He took the photo.

            A policeman came. The Police are investigating...

            'Proper nouns' are the names of people or animals. 'Susan',' 'David', 'Fido', and 'Tiddles' are all 'proper nouns'.

            Proper nouns don't usually have 'a', 'an' or 'the'' in front of them.

            For instance, you would say 'a man', or 'the man', but not 'the David.' If someone said, 'A David called for you,' they would mean, ‘One of the many thousands of Davids in the world called for you.’

            'A' IS THE SAME AS 'ONE'. In Old English, 'a' and 'an' meant 'one'. In Modern Scots dialects, people still say 'ane' instead of 'one', as in 'ane fine day' or 'one fine day'.

            In a similar way, in Spanish, 'Dame una manzana' means 'Give me an apple’and also ‘Give me one apple'. One and ‘an’ are the same.

            So, 'Give me an apple,' means 'Give me ONE apple.'

            'Give me a book,'means 'Give me ONE book.'

            But it also means, give me any apple, or give me any book. It means 'give me any one of those books from that pile,' or 'give me any one of those apples.' Or, ‘give me one of the many thousands of apples (or books) in the world.’

            “I'll catch a bus,” means, I'll catch any one of the dozens of buses.

            “I want a cake,” means, I want any cake.

            'A' and 'an' are INDEFINITE ARTICLES because they mean 'any one of those things'.


            You use 'an' in front of a vowel – a, e, i, o or u – simply because it's easier to say.

                        An apple.................It's hard to say 'a apple.'

                        An elephant.................It's hard to say 'a elephant.'

                        An interruption.................It's hard to say 'a interruption.'

                        An orange.................It's hard to say 'a orange.'

                        An undertaking.................It's hard to say 'a undertaking.'

            You use 'a' in front of a consonant – which is any letter not a vowel.

            So it's 'a cat..... a dog.... a bottle... a ship...


            Use 'the' when speaking about a PARTICULAR THING.

            For instance, 'a dog' means any dog,.

            'The dog' means a particular dog.

            So, if I say, “I'm taking a dog for a walk,” I am not telling you which dog. I might mean any one of many dogs.

            If I say, “I'm taking the dog for a walk,” I mean I am taking a particular dog for a walk – the dog that you know I own.

            If I say to you, “I'm washing a car,” I mean I'm washing any one of many cars, but not a particular one. Maybe I work at a car-wash and I'm washing cars all day – any car that anyone happens to bring along. When I speak to you, I'm washing yet another one.

            If I say, “I'm washing the car,” I mean, I'm washing a particular car, probably my car, the car you know I own.

            Look at these two sentences:-

            (X) The children know the fastest way home.

            (Y) Children know the fastest way home.

            Sentence X speaks of a particular group of children – the children. They will be children who you know. 'The fastest way home' means that there are several different ways home, but that one of them is faster than the others. It is this particular way home that this particular group of children knows.

            Sentence Y is speaking of all children, all the children in the world, any child you care to think of. It is saying that all children, everywhere, always know the fastest way home.

            'Give me the book,' means give me that particular book, the book we've been talking about. Or, perhaps, the only book in the room.

            'Give me a book,' means 'give me any book, give me one off that pile of books.'

            You can tell that ‘the’ is used to mean a particular object by the way it’s used below.

            The Book – this means a very special, particular book. If a Christian says it, they mean the Bible. If an Islamist says it, they mean the Koran. Saying ‘The Book’ means that, of all the books in the world, only this one matters.

            The Chair – this singles this particular chair out from all the other chairs in the world. ‘The Chair’ usually refers to the electric chair, the method of execution in some states of the USA.


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