ARTICLES IN ENGLISH
Articles are determiners (like possessives, demonstratives, quantifiers).
They normally come at the beginning of noun phrases, before adjectives.
Articles indicate whether we are talking about things in general (generic use) or
Articles can also show whether the speaker/writer thinks that something is known
(definite) or not known (indefinite) to the listener/reader.
Countable and uncountable nouns
A single countable noun will usually have an article or other determiner.
Plural and uncountable nouns can be used with or without an article or other
NB: some nouns can be either countable or uncountable, depending on context e.g.
Uncountable nouns generally do not take the indefinite article, except where they have
‘type of’ a strong cheese, a shampoo for dry hair
A secretary with a knowledge of English.
‘portion/unit of’ A coffee, please.
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2. INDEFINITE ARTICLE
Used with single countable nouns (with plurals we can use some, a lot of, any etc)
Means roughly ‘one and it doesn’t matter which one’ (in this immediate context):
Would you like a drink?
They need an interpreter.
Can you recommend an electrician?
He made a terrible mess of it.
Have you got a sharp knife?
Used when a singular countable noun is mentioned for the first time:
Alan took a book off the shelf.
Used in expressions of frequency, speed, amount, cost:
once a day, 30km an hour, £1.20 a dozen, a pound each
3. DEFINITE ARTICLE
The basic meaning is ‘the one we know about’ (specific and definite)
It may be known because it has already been mentioned (anaphoric reference or ‘back-
A doctor came in, followed by a nurse. The nurse was wheeling a large trolley.
At the end of the street is a row of houses. In the middle of the row is number 15.
Or postmodification of some kind (a prepositional phrase with of or a relative
clause) makes it clear what is being referred to (cataphoric or ‘forward-pointing’ use)
the results of the enquiry, the middle of the day, the summit of the mountain,
the translators working on the project
He filed the report I requested.
The government will implement the proposal I put forward
It may be that the thing in question is unique OR is ‘understood’ as such by those
communicating in the specific context:
the sun, the President, the butcher’s, the zoo, the police, the Faculty
Pass me the scissors.
Have you read the paper yet?
It’s on the shelf. [Which shelf?]
There’s someone at the door. [*Which door?]
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Superlatives are of course unique:
It’s the most difficult novel I’ve ever read.
She’s the best in the group.
Similarly, the definite article usually goes with first, next, same, only:
We were the first company to offer this service.
It’s the only way we can do it.
- names of areas of the world: the Far East, the Middle East, the West
(but not continents or regions within countries, provinces or counties)
- mountain ranges and hills: the Alps, the Andes, the Rocky Mountains / the Rockies,
the Appalachians, the Dolomites, the Pennines / the Pennine Hills, the Gorjanci [Hills],
the Pohorje [Hills] (but not individual mountains or hills)
- oceans, seas: the Atlantic [Ocean], the Pacific [Ocean], the Indian Ocean, the Adriatic
[Sea], the North Sea
- other marine features: the English Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Magellan
Straits, the Bay of Bengal, the Bay of Biscay, the Bay of Piran (but Hudson Bay)
- rivers, valleys: the Ljubljanica, the River Thames, the Hudson River, the Thames
Valley, the Hudson Valley the Poljane Valley
- groups of lakes: the Great Lakes, the Triglav Lakes (but not individual ones)
- deserts: the Sahara, the Gobi, the Kalahari
- island groups: the West Indies, the Bahamas, the Seychelles, the Kornati
When referring to some aspect of our physical environment and the reference is
understood by all:
the sea, the mountains, the coast, the wind, the rain, the fog, the night
Do you prefer the town or the country?
I don’t like driving in the dark.
Names of most hotels, pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, museums, galleries:
the Ritz, the King’s Head, the Ivy, the National, the Odeon, the Natural
History Museum, the Tate
the radio, the TV, the phone, the Internet, the train, the Underground
NB: Is there a phone / a TV in the room?
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Before countable nouns and with uncountable nouns in their specific sense:
The snow was over a metre deep.
NB: Other determiners are possible before nouns in their specific sense:
Is their any snow on the road?
Do you want some tea?
The generic use (what is typical or general for a class of things):
The tiger is in danger of becoming extinct.
Nationalities and other generic adjectives for classes of people:
the British, the blind, the disabled, the public, the aristocracy,
the middle class, the unemployed
Articles are often omitted in headlines (but not titles), on signs, in picture captions, in
instructions, when numbering or labelling, in dictionary/glossary entries, lists, notes:
President to face trial
Queen receives Pope
Economy healthy says Chancellor
Open at other end
Use other door
alipterion a room for anointment
pay bills, feed cat, ring mum
4. ‘ZERO’ ARTICLE
Uncountable nouns in general sense:
When snow melts it becomes water.
Indian food is my favourite.
Do you like reading poetry?
Common 'abstract' uncountable nouns:
advice, agriculture, art, beauty, competition, conservation, courage, crime,
education, energy, experience, expertise, faith, goodwill, growth, heritage,
history, independence, inflation, information, intelligence, knowledge,
literature, leisure, love, man, music, nature, news, permission, politics,
poverty, publicity, reliability, research, science, society, space, training,
translation, wealth, work
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Plural countable nouns in general sense:
Women usually earn less than men.
Translators have a very high social status in Slovenia.
Institutions used in general sense:
Does your daughter go to school?
He is in hospital.
at school, at university, in church, from work, in prison
Specific institutions or buildings:
Cambridge University, York Minster, King’s Cross Station, Stansted Airport,
London Zoo, Leeds City Council
Prepositional phrases to do with transport or communications:
by car / bus / train / bike / air / on foot
by phone / email / letter
Before street names, except when the article is part of the name:
Oxford Street, The Strand
- continents (or parts of): Asia, Central Europe, South America
- countries, states, regions, counties: Lebanon, Ukraine, California, Bavaria, Tuscany,
Carniola, Gorenjska, Prekmurje, Berkshire, Yorkshire
(but: the UK, the USA, [the] Netherlands)
- cities, towns: Ouagadougou, Maribor, (but: The Hague)
- individual mountains or hills: Triglav, Ben Nevis, Snowdon, Mont Blanc, Salisbury
Hill, Grmada (but: the Matterhorn, the Wrekin)
- individual lakes: Lake Windermere, Lake Ontario, Lake Bled, Lake Cerknica
Proper names and titles:
Professor Jones, Queen Elizabeth, President Bush
Names of dishes:
spaghetti bolognaise, chicken tikka masala, shepherd’s pie, potica
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5. OTHER SPECIAL CASES AND EXCEPTIONS
1. Article often omitted after both and all
Both children are good at English.
I haven’t seen him all day / week / summer.
2. Article often omitted after kind of, sort of, type of
What kind of man is he?
Are you looking for a different sort of holiday?
3. Articles used with days of the week or months make the reference specific:
It was a Monday in December when it happened.
He left on the Friday.
It was the September when we moved.
We’re experiencing a very wet April.
Note: there seems to be little difference between spring / the spring, but in North
America autumn is the fall.
4. Parts of the body
We use possessive forms when referring to parts of the body:
She broke her leg skiing.
However, in prepositional phrases related to the object of a clause or subject of a
passive clause, we often use the definite article:
She shot him in the leg.
He couldn’t look her in the eye.
Names of illnesses are usually uncountable, so they take no article, but there are
exceptions: a cold, a headache, a toothache (AmEng), the flu, (the) measles
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If we pronounce it as a word, then it is usually treated as an uncountable noun and has
no article: NATO, UNICEF, AIDS
Where we spell the letters out, then the article usually appear: the EU, the UN, the
WHO, the ILO, the BBC, the OSCE [but note: GDP, VAT, HIV, ITV]
In by phrases there is a definite article, while an indefinite article is used when one unit
is related to another:
Can you buy it by the kilo or (by) the dozen?
He drinks it by the litre.
It costs sixty pence a kilo.
He went at thirty miles an hour the whole way.
There is a difference between a meal as an institution and a specific meal:
I’ve invited her for dinner.
Thanks for the lovely dinner.
9. Times of the day
Compare the following (prepositional phrase vs. noun phrase)
It’s not safe to go out alone at night.
I was woken in the middle of the night.
10. Parallel structures:
from country to country, from side to side, mother and baby
lawyer and client, doctor and patient
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11. Newspapers, magazines, journals
Most newspapers have the definite article incorporated into their name, most magazines
and journals do not. An article is not added to foreign names. Thus:
The Guardian, The Times, Le Figaro, El Pais, Delo, Dnevnik
Cosmopolitan, Newsweek, ! The Economist, Mag
7. COMMON ERRORS / PROBLEMS
1. Use of the definite or indefinite article with uncountable nouns, particularly
Life is complicated. * The life
What does it mean for society? * the society
Security is a key issue in the modern world. * The security
She’s made good progress. * a good progress
But this also applies to all uncountable nouns:
Do you like spaghetti / Indian food / turkey / Earl Grey tea / red wine or white?
2a. The use of the definite rather than the indefinite article with the generic meaning
‘an example of’:
We are organising a meeting to discuss... * the meeting
She is preparing an exhibition on... * the exhibition
He is managing a project on... * the project
I am translating a text on... * the text
I am reading a novel about... * the novel
I’ve got a lovely photo of... * the lovely photo
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2b. Use of the definite rather than indefinite article with a noun used for classifying
(e.g. job, position, role):
She’s a translator. * the translator
She’s a member of the committee. * the member
I’m a married man. * the married man
He’s a talented performer. * the talented performer
She’s an associate professor. * the associate professor
Police are looking for a man in his twenties. * the man
The definite article is used only if the position or whatever is unique in some way:
She’s the chair of the committee.
He’s the most talented performer I’ve ever seen.
3. Failure to use the definite article when the noun is post-modified by a prepositional
phrase with of or a relative clause (with or without relative pronoun). Thus:
I’m studying history. * the history
> I’m studying the history of Central Europe. * history
Did you buy her a present? * the present
> Did you buy her the present we talked about? * present
> Aren’t you going to give her the present you bought? * present
4. Failure to use the definite article in its generic sense / general use:
I’m giving a paper on the Slovene novel. * novel
I love the theatre. * theatre
The bear is threatened by the spread of sheep farming. * bear
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5. The use of the definite article with certain kinds of proper nouns:
* the Triglav, * the Lake Bled, * the Ljubljana castle, * the Rožnik,
* the Cankarjev dom, * the Bežigrad secondary school, * the Lek,
* the Mercator,
6. The use of the definite article with plural nouns
I enjoy films of all kinds. * the films
I have a number of texts to translate. * the texts
Politicians are all the same. * The politicians
Textile companies are facing stiff competition. * The textile companies
Dictionaries can be very useful. * The dictionaries
7. The use of the definite article with proper name + ‘s genitive:
Prešeren’s poetry / a Prešeren poem * the Prešeren’s poem/poetry
Plečnik’s design / a Plečnik building * the Plečnik’s design/building
America’s budget deficit * the America’s budget deficit
Slovenia’s development * the Slovenia’s development
But note that when a name is pre-modified by a noun phrase, an article will be used:
the poet and essayist Aleš Debeljak
the business celebrity Richard Branson
And that the genitive noun itself may take an article:
the secretary’s proposal
[note: *the Mary Smith’s proposal]
In writing, the definite article is more than twice as common as the indefinite and in the
kind of texts you are likely to translate postmodification probably plays a more
important role then anaphoric reference.
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Insert the articles in the texts below.
__ news from ___ ACA Secretariat and __ ACA Members
___ ACA Secretariat wishes you ____ Happy New Year!
____ Hamburg Recommendations now available on ___
Bologna Bergen website.
___ Academic Cooperation Association (ACA), in collaboration with ___
University of Hamburg, organised ___ two-day conference “Opening up to
___ Wider World: ___ External Dimension of ___ Bologna Process”, which
took place on 18 and 19 October 2004 at ___ University of Hamburg, in
___ recommendations based on ___ results of the conference have been
submitted to ___ Bologna Follow-up Group. These recommendations are
now available on ___ Bologna-Bergen website. ___ one page document is
___ synthesis of ___ outcomes of ___ conference, and ___ clear
recommendation for ___ inclusion in ___ Bergen Communiqué.
___ paper presents two main recommendations:
- ___ ministers should encourage ___ provision of ___ better and more
comprehensive information about ___ Bologna Process to ___ relevant
academic stakeholders outside ___ Europe.
- ___ structural reforms alone will not suffice to make Europe ___ global
higher education leader. ___ ministers should therefore ensure ___
adequate resources and ___ working conditions, in order to keep or attract
___ high-quality teachers and ___ researchers.
___ Education Ministers summit will take place in Bergen (Norway) in May
D Limon Articles 55
____ culture of ____ Old Stone Age or Paleolithic in Slovenia is attested by ____
number of ____finds in ____caves including ____remains of ____ hearths, ____ stone
tools and ____ animal bones. In ___ Gorenjska, ____ best known archaeological finds
from ____ later part of this period are at ____ caves of ____ Mokrice and ____ Poljšica
Church in Gorje near Bled. ____ latter was occupied by ____hunter-gatherers drawn to
____ foothills of ____ Alps about 15,000 years ago, when ____ ice sheet that once
covered ____ large part of ____ Gorenjska had already retreated. They left behind them
____ stone tools for scraping, scratching and hole making. Among ____ tools was
found ____ single boring tool, which is extremely precisely worked and one of ____
best examples from this period found in this part of ____ world.
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