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What Is an Article in Grammar? — All You Need to Know

What Is an Article in Grammar? — All You Need to Know

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English articles might seem tricky, but they are the key to polished speech. 

So, are you ready to become a true article master?

Let’s get started!



What is an article in Grammar?

An article in grammar is a word used before nouns to specify if the noun is general or specific. Articles can either be categorized as determiners or treated as their own unique part of speech depending on the concept of grammar employed. In English, the primary articles are “a,” “an,” and “the.” 


Classification of Articles

In traditional grammar, the classification of articles often sparks in-depth discussions.

Historically, English grammar, influenced by the Latin-based approach, did not have a designated article category.

As such, traditional grammarians frequently classified articles under “adjectives” since they modify and provide information about nouns.

Here are the eight parts of speech as recognized in traditional grammar:

Part of SpeechDescriptionExamples
NounNames a person, place, thing, or ideadog, city, love
PronounReplaces a noun to avoid repetitionhe, she, it
AdjectiveDescribes or modifies a nounhappy, green, tall
VerbExpresses action or state of beingrun, is, feel
AdverbModifies a verb, adjective, or another adverbquickly, very, well
PrepositionShows a relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and other wordsin, on, over
ConjunctionConnects words, phrases, or clausesand, but, because
InterjectionExpresses strong emotion and is usually followed by an exclamationOh!, Wow!, Ouch!

However, as the study of English grammar evolved, many modern systems began to recognize “a,” “an,” and “the” as their own unique part of speech, distinct from other adjectives.

In contemporary grammar discussions, some might still categorize them as adjective-like determiners.

However, English grammar articles are increasingly acknowledged as an independent part of speech in the English language.

In more contemporary linguistic studies, English grammar has been dissected and analyzed with greater precision than in the traditional approach.

Parts of speech in the updated classification system are now divided to show their specific roles in language.

As a result, newer grammars often recognize nine parts of speech, providing a more detailed understanding of how words function in sentences.

Here are the nine parts of speech as recognized in some modern grammars:

  • Noun: Names a person, place, thing, or idea.
  • Pronoun: Replaces a noun to prevent repetition.
  • Adjective: Describes or modifies a noun.
  • Verb: Expresses action or state of being.
  • Adverb: Modifies verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.
  • Preposition: Indicates a relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and other parts of a sentence.
  • Conjunction: Joins words, phrases, or clauses.
  • Interjection: Expresses emotion or sudden exclamations.
  • Determiner: Introduces nouns and can denote specificity, quantity, or possession. This category includes articles (a, an, the), numbers, and some quantifiers like ‘some’ or ‘many’.



Types of Articles in the English language

Articles in English grammar are divided into two primary categories: indefinite and definite.

“A” and “an” are indefinite articles used when talking about non-specific things.

For instance, “a book” could refer to any book, not a particular one.

“The,” on the other hand, is a definite article pointing to a specific item or group. For example, “the book on the shelf” refers to a specific book.


The Definite Article “The” in English with Examples

The definite article in English is the word “the.” As the name suggests, it refers to a specific item or items that both the speaker and listener are aware of.

The definite article in the English language is versatile as it can be used with singular, plural, and even uncountable nouns.

Definite Article in English Examples:

  • The cat is on the mat.
  • I visited the Great Wall of China.
  • The water in this bottle is fresh.
  • She’s playing the guitar I bought last month.

Utilizing the definite article correctly ensures clarity and precision in your sentences, guiding the reader or listener to a particular reference point.


The Indefinite Articles “a” and “an” in English with Examples

Indefinite articles in English include “a” and “an.”

Their purpose is to introduce a noun without specifying which particular instance of the noun you’re referring to.

Essentially, they’re used when the listener or reader doesn’t know beforehand which item you’re talking about.

The choice between “a” and “an” depends on the sound that follows. Use “a” before a consonant sound and “an” before a vowel sound.

Indefinite Article in English Examples:

  • She wants a book for her birthday.
  • I saw an owl in the woods last night.
  • He’s a university student.
  • It’s an honor to meet you.

Incorporating indefinite articles aptly helps introduce new subjects or items in a conversation or piece of writing, setting the stage for further elaboration.


Article Placement in Sentences

In English grammar, articles are strategically positioned right before the nouns they’re associated with.

They can also precede adjectives that describe those nouns. Here are some examples to illustrate their placement:

  • The tall man entered the room. (Here, “the” modifies “man” with the adjective “tall” in between.)
  • She bought a new dress. (“a” directly modifies “dress.”)
  • It’s an old tradition. (“an” is used before the adjective “old” which describes “tradition.”)
  • They visited the Great Barrier Reef. (“the” modifies the compound noun “Great Barrier Reef.”)
  • I found a blue pen on the table. (“a” modifies “pen” with the adjective “blue” preceding it.)

In each example, the article either directly precedes the noun or comes before the adjective(s) modifying the noun.


Common Mistakes with Articles

“Mistakes with article usage are common, even for native English speakers. To help, we’ve compiled a list of frequent errors.”

Common MistakeCorrect Usage
Using "a" before vowel sounds.a apple → "an apple"
Omitting "the" with specific known entities.Eiffel Tower is tall. → "The Eiffel Tower is tall."
Using "the" with general plural nouns.The dogs are friendly. → "Dogs are friendly."
Adding an article before uncountable nouns.a furniture → "furniture"
Misplacing the article in the sentence.Man the tall entered. → "The tall man entered."

Key Takeaways on Article Mistakes:

  • Sound, Not Spelling: Always remember that the choice between “a” and “an” depends on the sound of the following word, not its spelling. For instance, “an hour” is correct even though “h” is a consonant because it’s silent in “hour.”
  • Specific vs. General: A common oversight involves using “the” (a definite article) with general nouns when it’s not required, and omitting it when specificity is intended.
  • Uncountable Nouns: Uncountable nouns like “information,” “music,” or “advice” typically don’t take articles when referring to them in a general sense. However, when being specific, they might take the definite article “the.”


Use of Articles — Exceptions

Understanding the foundational rules for articles is key, but, as always, there are some exceptions to the rule. 

Here’s an exploration of those special scenarios.

  • Geographical Names: While most countries don’t use an article, some like the USA, the UK, and the Netherlands, do. Rivers always take “the,” such as the Nile or the Amazon. This also applies to deserts, oceans, and seas, as in the Sahara, the Pacific Ocean, or the Caribbean Sea.
  • Musical Instruments: Generally, when speaking about playing an instrument, “the” is used. For instance, playing the guitar or the piano.
  • Unique Entities: This includes unique landmarks, organizations, or entities. For example, the UN, the White House, and the Eiffel Tower.
  • Diseases: Diseases like the flu or measles use “the,” but others like cancer or diabetes don’t.
  • Time References: Time periods or unique events often use “the” such as the Renaissance or the Ice Age.


When Not to Use an Article

As pretty and neat these English articles are, there are scenarios where you should not use them.

Here’s a handy list showing when not to use articles:

  • General Nouns: When talking about something in general rather than a specific instance. Example: “Children love toys” instead of “The children love the toys.”
  • Uncountable Nouns: As mentioned, words like “rice,” “information,” or “water” don’t usually require an article when discussed in general terms. Example: “Water is essential for life.”
  • Proper Nouns: Countries, cities, and personal names usually don’t take an article. However, there are exceptions like “the United States” or “the Philippines.”
  • Languages and Academic Subjects: No article is needed before languages (unless specifying a particular course). Example: “She speaks French” or “I study biology.”
  • Titles with Names: When using titles like “Doctor” or “Captain” followed by a name, omit the article. Example: “Captain Smith,” not “The Captain Smith.”


As always, there are a couple of exceptions, though. For instance, while most countries don’t need “the,” there are exceptions like “the United States” or “the Netherlands.”


English Grammar Articles Quiz

After reading this article, you should have a pretty good understanding of articles in the English language. 

It’s time to test your knowledge, ok?

Here are 10 questions for you (to get the answers, download the PDF).


  1. ___ apple a day keeps the doctor away. a) A b) An c) The
  2. ___ Eiffel Tower is in Paris. a) A b) An c) The
  3. I have ___ umbrella in my bag. a) A b) An c) The
  4. She’s ___ best student in our class. a) A b) An c) The
  5. It’s ___ honor to meet you. a) A b) An c) The
  6. They visited ___ USA last summer. a) A b) An c) The
  7. Can you play ___ guitar? a) A b) An c) The
  8. She wants to be ___ engineer. a) A b) An c) The
  9. ___ Amazon River is one of the longest rivers in the world. a) A b) An c) The
  10. I saw ___ owl during our camping trip. a) A b) An c) The




Frequently Asked Questions


Why are articles considered important?

Articles are deemed crucial as they provide clarity by distinguishing between specific and general references.


What are the main types of articles?

The main types of articles are indefinite (a, an) and definite (the).


When should “an” be used instead of “a”?

To use “an” instead of “a,” ensure the following word begins with a vowel sound, like in “an umbrella” or “an honest mistake.”


What part of speech are articles in English Grammar?

In English grammar, articles fall under the part of speech “determiners.” They indicate if nouns are specific or general and their quantity. While determiners add context to nouns, traditional grammars classify articles as “adjectives.”