• Daniel Bullock

Using articles isn’t as difficult as you think

Updated: Feb 1

You might think that using articles correctly is a difficult and challenging activity- but if you follow straightforward steps I think you will find isn’t that difficult.

difficulty, english, articles, 英語
Articles in English grammar are not as difficult as you might think! Have hope!

How to use articles with examples

In this artcicle you will learn how to use English articles with lots of examples. Read on to find out more!

What are English articles in grammar?

Articles are words that we put before nouns. These words are a, an and the. We use articles to show that we mean the noun is specific or general in its meaning.

Are articles necessary?

Quite simply, yes. Firstly they add information to what we are talking about. For example if you said: “I went to the city.” This means both speakers know which city is being talked about ( for example, both people live just outside London, so when they say city, it’s clearly meaning London.). If you said: “I went to city” this just does not make sense, and we don’t know if it’s a particular city (like London) or any city in general, in the whole world! For this sentence to make sense you need the articles either a, or the.

Do you want to sound natural when you speak or write in English? What do you need to do is use articles correctly. One of the key signs that a person is not a native speaker of English, is when they use articles incorrectly or don’t use them at all.

What is the definite article?

The definitive article is the. When to use the definitive article? We normally use the definitive article when something is known fully. For example I want to go to the city. The two speakers we both know which city is being talked about. As with the indefinite article, we use the in front of a noun.

definite article, the city, 英語
I'd like to go to the city

What are some examples of the definite article?

Here you will find some sentences which show the use of articles in action. In particular, you will see the definite article.

How can I improve the level of my English, particularly with articles?

Well, I think to improve the level of your English you should work on many things. For example, the fluency of a speaker is an important marker for how advanced their language skills are.

fluency, listening skills, definite aritcle, the
The level of her fluency is high

The listening skills that Tracy has are quite advanced, however she still needs to practice some more if she wants to be on the same level as a native speaker of English.

Definite article examples list

What do you want to watch on TV tonight? I think I’d like to watch the news.

What do you think about the weather? It is really chilly today!

John rode his bike to the park.

Jim does not have the power to lift such a heavy box.

Some more examples of the definite article are as follows:

I went to the shops.

I want the chicken burger, not the beef burger.

You should talk to the doctor if you are feeling unwell.

How do I know where the article goes? Answer:You need to place the article before the noun. A noun is a thing such as a door, a book, a city, a place, a room, feeling. There are many, many more, too!

What is the indefinite article?

The Indefinite article is the word a or an.

What is the point of the indefinite article? Why can’t we just say the in front of everything?

This is a very good question. Basically, we use the indefinite article, or a/an when something is not fully known. This is particularly the case when we are talking about selections of nouns. For example: I feel like a cheeseburger. This does not mean you want a cheeseburger from a particular hamburger restaurants. It could be a cheeseburger from any restaurant or shop. This is why we say a. Contrast this to when you are in a particular, named restaurant. When you are going to order, you might say “ i’d like the cheeseburger, please.” We are saying that, because this restaurant serves a unique and particular cheeseburger.

burger, a, indefinite article
I feel like a burger with fries

What are the rules when using the articles: a or an?

When we are using the article a or an, we have to think about the noun as one thing from a selection. I want to have a drink versus I want to have the drink. If you said the second sentence, it could possibly be incorrect. It is implying that there is only one drink, possibly in the whole world! If you are saying “ I want to have a drink”, that just means one cup or one bottle and there are many others, that other people can have. That is not to say that “I want to have the drink” is wrong. It is not. It just has a different meaning or is used in a different situation. If you said “I want to have a drink”, we are meaning a particular special drink or one which is sat on the table by itself.

When we are using the article a or an, we have to think about the noun as one thing from a selection.

Here is another example of the indefinite article:

I'd like to live on a tropical island some day.

There are many islands in the world, and this is just one of them. Therefore, we use a instead of the definite article.

a tropical island, indefinite article, how to use, example
Would you ever like to live on a tropical island?

When to use a, an or the?

Check this table out to see when to use a, an or the.

I want to have a drink.

Means one drink from many.

I want to have the drink.

​Means there is only one drink available.

I want to have an ice cream

Means an ice crream from a selection of many

a drink, indefinite article
I want to have a drink, not "the" drink

What are 10 examples of the indefinite article?

Here is a list of examples of the indefinite article:

  1. How can I become a good speaker of English? Well, to become a Fluent speaker of English, you will need to put in many hours of study in all areas, for example grammar, vocabulary, listening and speaking.

  2. I’d like to have a beer.

  3. Could I take a break now please?

  4. Mike is feeling kind of lonely these days, maybe he needs a new friend.

  5. Do you have a moment please? I’d like to ask you a question.

  6. If you are going camping, you will need a sleeping bag, because it gets cold at night.

  7. What is an example of the past tense? Well an example of the past tense would be I’d rode my bicycle to a park.

  8. It is raining today, so I think you will need to bring an umbrella to school.

  9. I’d like to visit the zoo this spring because they have got an elephant there now!

  10. A vs the in English grammar? It is a difficult, but not impossible, question!

bike, the park, definite article, 英語
I rode my bike to the park

How do you know when to use the indefinite or definite article?

When to use the indefinite or the definite article really comes down to specificity. If you are talking about a particular thing then probably the definite article is best. If you are talking about a non-specific or one from a selection, then the indefinite article is best.

To further illustrate this point here are a few examples. I want to go to the mall. We know which mall it is because we usually go there. It makes sense to use the. Compare that sentence to this one: I don’t know this town, since we are on holiday here. Do you think there is a mall around here? Notice we use a and not the. This is because we don’t know which one it is it is a non-specific noun.

the mall, the shops, 英語, definite article
Let's go to the mall!

One of the questions my students often ask me is: why do I need to use the definite article and not the indefinite article? This comes down to knowing which one is correct or more natural sounding.

Do you need to use an article with this word?

Some of the more confusing words are in this list here. Water, milk, beer, time, space and idea.

Whether to use an article with words like these or not, will depend on exactly what we are trying to say. Take this example:

There is water here.


I’d like a water please.

One sentence doesn’t have an article, while one sentence does. Why is this the case? Why are article so confusing? The noun water is different in the two sentences, this is why we choose to not include an article in the first one. In the first sentence, there is water here, we are just meaning around this area we can see water. It could be on the ground in a big puddle, pond or large lake. We are describing the view, the situation or the scenario.

In the second sentence: I’d like a water please, we are being highly specific. We just would like to order a bottle of water. This is very clearly countable. Countable nouns usually have an article.

How about the word “time”. Do we need to use an article with time?

Usually the word time is an uncountable noun, therefore we do not need to use an article. An example of the word time in a sentence is this: I don’t have time to study English today.

Interestingly, look at this other example: I had a good time today. Notice here that we use the indefinite article. Why did we use the indefinite article? This is because we are talking about one particular time, today.

indefinite article, time, a, drinking
They had a great time

How about the word “idea” Do we need to use an article with idea?

The word “idea” can take an indefinite or definite article, it just depends on what you are saying.

Here is an example of idea in a sentence:

What should I do? Well, the idea is to practice dribbling the ball down the line. We have used the definite article because we are talking about a specific, particular idea.

Here is another example this time using any idea in a sentence.

I don’t have any idea how to speak Spanish, it is so difficult. Notice here that there is no article because we are using the word any instead.

And here is an example of the word “idea” with the indefinite article:

I want to disagree with him, but I don’t know how to do it in a delicate way. I have an idea. How about saying his idea is good first, and then saying how about doing your idea instead because it might work a little bit better. This would be a soft way to disagree with him.

I have an idea.

A top tip on using articles

Are there differences between American and British English when we use articles? The answer to this is yes! There are there is expressions in American English which need an article for example: I need to go to the hospital. In British English we wouldn’t normally use the in front of hospital. Another example of the difference between American and British English, in terms of articles, would be: I have a stomach ache, using American English. Using British English, however would negate the need for the article. You can just say I have stomach ache. The same goes for I have toothache. It is true though that many people in the UK might also use “a” But it isn’t really necessary when using British English. Most other situations are the same in British and American English; the article rules follow the same general path.

a stomach ache, indefinite article,
Do you need an article with stomach ache? Yes and no!

Here are my top 10 article questions!

You will find an article quiz with answers. Some of the questions will be for beginners and some of them will be for advanced level learners of English. Good luck! Be sure to cover the right side of the page so you don’t see the answers! Try to work out what goes into the gap. It will be either the definite article, the indefinite article, both or nothing at all.

Take the articles quiz!

Example Sentence

Which article, a/an or the?

​I’d like to go to [ ] beach. Oh, not again. We go there every weekend!


What would you like to drink? Could I have [ ] cola please? Certainly, here you are.


How do I operate this music player? You need to put [ ] CD into [ ] CD tray, and then press [ ] play button.


I’d like to travel to a tropical island this summer, but I don’t have [ ] money.


​What can I do to improve my English grammar? [ ] best thing you can do is practice reading, writing and reviewing.


What are some ways to improve my English fluency? I think [ ] good way to improve fluency is to practice speaking with other people each day


Should I use [ ] dictionary to study English? I would recommend using a dictionary, yes but don’t spend all your time just reading a dictionary; you need to do plenty of other things too!


I’d like to sign up for this English class. I’m very sorry but there aren’t [ ] spaces on this class left. Please try next semester.


Learning English as [ ] foreign language in Japan can sometimes be challenging, because there aren’t many opportunities to speak English in daily life. That’s why it’s important to take [ ] regular conversation class.


Is water [ ] countable noun? No, it isn’t. What is an uncountable noun in general. However, it is sometimes used with [ ] container such as [ ] bottle. Then it would be [ ] countable noun. For example: I’d like [ ] bottle of water, please.


tokyo, learning english, 東京,英語
There aren't as many opportunities to speak English in Japan, as in some other countries.

Which article should I use?

Using articles can sometimes be tricky, but if you follow some simple rules and ideas you won’t have too much trouble. Use the when people know about the subject. Also use the when we can’t count the noun, for example with water or time. Use the indefinite article, or a/an, when we can count the thing or we know it is from a selection. For example you’re in a shop and you’re looking at canned food. You might say: I would like a can of beans.

Good luck with your journey studying, learning and enjoying how to use articles!