Grammar Basics: Articles

‘Articles’ is one of the most common areas tested in sentence correction questions of various competitive exams.
What are Articles?
Articles are the shortest and most commonly used adjectives. The adjectives ‘a’, ‘an’, and ‘the’ are called articles. These are basically demonstrative adjectives.
Types of Articles
Articles are divided into two main types: Indefinite and Definite.
  1. Indefinite Articles
Indefinite articles indicate that the noun modified is indefinite, referring to any member of a group. They are used with singular countable nouns when the noun is general and the corresponding indefinite quantity word ‘some’ is used for plural general nouns. ‘A’ and ‘an’ are indefinite articles. Given below are examples explained with rules for usage:
  • A rat (a + singular noun beginning with a consonant & a consonant sound)
  • An elephant (a + singular noun beginning with a vowel & a vowel sound)
  • An hour, an enemy, an hour, an honest person (a + singular noun beginning with a vowel sound)
  • A unicorn, a European, a one-rupee note (a + singular noun beginning with a consonant sound)
Further, indefinite articles are used to indicate membership in profession, nation and religion. Examples:
  • Sneha is a teacher.
  • I am an Indian.
  • Hema is a practicing Buddhist.
‘A’ can also be used in place of ‘one’, uncertainty of if an individual represents the whole class. Examples:
  • Not a word was said.
  • A Rajkumar is suspected by the police.
  • A pupil should obey his teacher.
  1. Definite Article
Definite article is used before singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific or particular. This indicates that the noun is definite and refers to a particular member of a group. Additionally, it is used for countable as well as uncountable nouns. ‘The’ is called the definite article.
Note that, ‘the’ is not used with uncountable nouns if the noun is not specific. Let’s explore the rules for definite article with the help of examples:
  • Butter milk is a popular drink. (no definite article)
  • The book you want is out of print. (a particular book)
  • The banyan is a kind of fig tree. (Singular noun representing the whole class)
  • The cow is a useful animal. (Singular noun representing the whole class. Here ‘a’ can also be used instead of ‘the’.)
  • Man is the only animal that uses fire. (‘man’ & ‘woman’ do not use articles when used in general sense)
  • The darkest cloud has a silver lining. (with superlatives)
  • The more the merrier. (as an adverb with comparatives)
  • He can play the flute. (before musical instruments)
  • The eight chapter of the book is very interesting. (before ordinals)
  • The Mr. Sinha whom you met last night is my uncle. (before a proper noun qualified by an adjective clause)
  • The immortal Shakespeare, The great Caesar, etc. (before a proper noun qualified by and adjective)
  • The Pacific, The Sahara, The Ukraine, etc. (before proper names of places)
  • The Vedas, The Ramayana, etc. (before the names of certain books)
  • Valmiki’s Ramayana, Homer’s Iliad, etc. (No definite article in this format)
  • The sun, The earth, The sky, The ocean, The sea, etc. (before the names of unique things)
Articles are not used before names of uncountable substances, plural nouns and abstract nouns unless they are used in a particular sense. E.g.
  • Wisdom is the gift of heaven.
  • The wisdom of Solomon is great.
  • Children like chocolates.
The above mentioned rules are often tested in Sentence correction questions.