Articles are the words ‘a’ or ‘an’ and ‘the’, which come before nouns. There are two articles – ‘a’ (or ‘an’) and ‘the’.

A or an is known as the Indefinite Article, because it usually leaves indefinite the person or thing spoken of. Such as;

A nurse– which means any nurse.

The is known as the definite article, because it normally points out some particular person or thing. Such as;

He saw the nurse – which means some particular nurse.

The definite article article is used before singular countable nouns, plural countable nouns and uncountable nouns. For instance;

The book; or the books; or the milk.

The choice between ‘a’ and ‘an’ is determined by sound. Before a word beginning with a vowel sound ‘an’ is used. Such as;

An ass; an enemy ; an orange ; an hour ; an heir.

It should be noticed that the words hour, honest, heir, begin with a vowel sound, as the initial consonant ‘h’ isnot pronounced.

Before a word beginning with a consonant sound ‘a’ is used. For instance;

A boy ; A union ; A horse ; A European ; A university ; A woman

In such words (university, union,etc.) the beginning is with a consonant sound, that of ‘yu’. In similar way, we can say that;

A one-rupee note; Such a one ; A one-eyed woman.

This is because one begins with the consonant sound of ‘w’.

P.S. – Some native speakers use ‘an’ before words beginning with ‘h’ if the first syllable is not stressed. For instance;

An hotel (more common usage is ‘a hotel’)

An historical book (more common usage ‘a historical novel’)

Definite Article:

The definite article ‘the’ is used for following uses –

1. When a particular person or thing, or one already referred to (that is, when it is clear from the context which one is meant). Such as;

The book you want is out of print. (It means which book? the one you want).

The boy cried. (the boy means ‘the boy already talked about’)

2. When a singular noun is meant to represent a whole class. Such as;

The dog is a useful animal.

3. ‘The’ is used before some proper names like the following kinds of place names;

Oceans and seas (the Pacific, the Atlantic), rivers (the Nile, the Amazon), canals (the Panama Canal), deserts (the Kalahari, the Sahara), groups of islands (the West indies), mountain ranges (the Himalayas, the Andes), names of nations like republics and kingdoms (the Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the Hague).

4. Before names of things unique of their kind. Such as;

The sun ; the sky ; the earth.

5. Before a proper noun when it is qualified by an adjective or a definite adjectival clause. Such as;

The great Ceaser ; the immortal Shakespeare.

6. With Superlatives, ‘the’ is used. For instance;

The darkest cloud has a silver lining.

This is the best book of elementary physics.

7. ‘The’ is used with ordinals. Such as;

She was the first woman to arrive.

8. As an adverb with comparatives. Such as;

The more the merrier. (this means – by how much more, by so much the merrier)

9. ‘The’ is used before musical instruments. Such as;

He can play the guitar.

10. Before a noun to give the impact of a Superlative. For example;

The verb is the word in a sentence.

Indefinite Article

The indefinite article is used in following four cases –

1. In its original numerical sense of one. For instance;

Twelve inches make a foot.

Not a word was uttered.

2. In the vague sense of a certain. Such as;

One evening a beggar came to my door.

A Rajnikant is suspected by the detective. (means a certain person named Rajnikant)

3. In the sense of any, to single out an individual as the representative of a class. Such as;

A pupil should obey his teacher.

A goat is a useful animal.

4. To make a common noun of a proper noun. Such as;

A Daniel come to judgement. (A Daniel means a very wise man)

The rules for Article usage are summarized in the table below:

rules for articles

Study Material for UPSC IAS Prelims and Mains