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Definite and Indefinite


Bagus Andryan

XI IPA 1 / 2

What is an article? Basically, an article is an adjective. Like adjectives, articles modify nouns.

English has two articles: the and a/an. The is used to refer to specific or particular nouns; a/an is

used to modify non-specific or non-particular nouns. We call the the definite article and a/an the

indefinite article.

the = definite article

a/an = indefinite article

For example, if I say, “Let’s read the book,” I mean a specific book. If I say, “Let’s read a book,”

I mean any book rather than a specific book.

Here’s another way to explain it: The is used to refer to a specific or particular member of a

group. For example, “I just saw the most popular movie of the year.” There are many movies, but

only one particular movie is the most popular. Therefore, we use the.

“A/an” is used to refer to a non-specific or non-particular member of the group. For example, “I

would like to go see a movie.” Here, we’re not talking about a specific movie. We’re talking

about any movie. There are many movies, and I want to see any movie. I don’t have a specific

one in mind.

Let’s look at each kind of article a little more closely.

Indefinite Articles: a and an

“A” and “an” signal that the noun modified is indefinite, referring to any member of a group. For


“My daughter really wants a dog for Christmas.” This refers to any dog. We don’t know

which dog because we haven’t found the dog yet.

“Somebody call a policeman!” This refers to any policeman. We don’t need a specific

policeman; we need any policeman who is available.

“When I was at the zoo, I saw an elephant!” Here, we’re talking about a single, non-

specific thing, in this case an elephant. There are probably several elephants at the zoo,

but there’s only one we’re talking about here.

Remember, using a or an depends on the sound that begins the next word. So…

a + singular noun beginning with a consonant: a boy; a car; a bike; a zoo; a dog

an + singular noun beginning with a vowel: an elephant; an egg; an apple; an idiot; an


a + singular noun beginning with a consonant sound: a user (sounds like ‘yoo-zer,’ i.e.

begins with a consonant ‘y’ sound, so ‘a’ is used); a university; a unicycle

In some cases where “h” is pronounced, such as “historical,” use an:

An historical event is worth recording.

In writing, “a historical event” is more commonly used.

Remember that this rule also applies when you use acronyms:

Introductory Composition at Purdue (ICaP) handles first-year writing at the University.

Therefore, an ICaP memo generally discusses issues concerning English 106 instructors.

Another case where this rule applies is when acronyms start with consonant letters but have

vowel sounds:

An MSDS (material safety data sheet) was used to record the data. An SPCC plan (Spill

Prevention Control and Countermeasures plan) will help us prepare for the worst.

If the noun is modified by an adjective, the choice between a and an depends on the initial sound

of the adjective that immediately follows the article:

a broken egg

an unusual problem

a European country (sounds like ‘yer-o-pi-an,’ i.e. begins with consonant ‘y’ sound)

Remember, too, that in English, the indefinite articles are used to indicate membership in a


I am a teacher. (I am a member of a large group known as teachers.)

Brian is an Irishman. (Brian is a member of the people known as Irish.)

Seiko is a practicing Buddhist. (Seiko is a member of the group of people known as


Definite Article: the

The definite article is used before singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific or

particular. The signals that the noun is definite, that it refers to a particular member of a group.

For example:

“The dog that bit me ran away.” Here, we’re talking about a specific dog, the dog that bit me.

“I was happy to see the policeman who saved my cat!” Here, we’re talking about a particular

policeman. Even if we don’t know the policeman’s name, it’s still a particular policeman because

it is the one who saved the cat.

“I saw the elephant at the zoo.” Here, we’re talking about a specific noun. Probably there is only

one elephant at the zoo.

Countable and Uncountable Nouns

The can be used with uncountable nouns, or the article can be omitted entirely.

“I love to sail over the water” (some specific body of water) or “I love to sail over water”

(any water).

“He spilled the milk all over the floor” (some specific milk, perhaps the milk you bought

earlier that day) or “He spilled milk all over the floor” (any milk).

“A/an” can be used only with count nouns.

“I need a bottle of water.”

“I need a new glass of milk.”

Most of the time, you can’t say, “She wants a water,” unless you’re implying, say, a bottle of


Geographical use of the

There are some specific rules for using the with geographical nouns.

Do not use the before:

names of most countries/territories: Italy, Mexico, Bolivia; however, the Netherlands, the

Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the United States

names of cities, towns, or states: Seoul, Manitoba, Miami

names of streets: Washington Blvd., Main St.

names of lakes and bays: Lake Titicaca, Lake Erie except with a group of lakes like the

Great Lakes

names of mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Fuji except with ranges of mountains like the

Andes or the Rockies or unusual names like the Matterhorn

names of continents (Asia, Europe)

names of islands (Easter Island, Maui, Key West) except with island chains like the

Aleutians, the Hebrides, or the Canary Islands

Do use the before:

names of rivers, oceans and seas: the Nile, the Pacific

points on the globe: the Equator, the North Pole

geographical areas: the Middle East, the West

deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas: the Sahara, the Persian Gulf, the Black Forest, the

Iberian Peninsula

Omission of Articles

Some common types of nouns that don’t take an article are:

Names of languages and nationalities: Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian (unless you

are referring to the population of the nation: “The Spanish are known for their warm


Names of sports: volleyball, hockey, baseball

Names of academic subjects: mathematics, biology, history, computer science

Here are the rules for when to use “A, An or The”:

a = indefinite article (not a specific object, one of a number of the same objects) with


She has a dog.

I work in a factory.

an = indefinite article (not a specific object, one of a number of the same objects) with

vowels (a,e,i,o,u)

Can I have an apple?

She is an English teacher.

the = definite article (a specific object that both the person speaking and the listener


The car over there is fast.

The teacher is very good, isn’t he?

The first time you speak of something use “a or an”, the next time you repeat that object

use “the”.

I live in a house. The house is quite old and has four bedrooms.

I ate in a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was very good.

DO NOT use an article with countries, states, counties or provinces, lakes and mountains

except when the country is a collection of states such as “The United States”.

He lives in Washington near Mount Rainier.

They live in northern British Columbia.

Use an article with bodies of water, oceans and seas –

My country borders on the Pacific Ocean

DO NOT use an article when you are speaking about things in general

I like Russian tea.

She likes reading books.

DO NOT use an article when you are speaking about meals, places, and transport

He has breakfast at home.

I go to university.

He comes to work by taxi.

To decide if you should use the word the, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Is the noun indefinite (unspecified) or definite (specific)?

The general rule states that the first mention of a noun is indefinite and all subsequent

references to this noun are definite and take the.

A man is walking down a road. There is a dog with the man.

The second mention may be a synonym:

Combine butter, sugar and eggs. Add flour to the mixture.

First (indefinite) mention requires a or an for a singular count noun, no article for a plural

or non-count noun. Second mention makes the correct for both count and non-count


A growing plant must have water and minerals. The plant must also have sunlight. The

minerals must include nitrates and the water must not be saline.

Three special groups of nouns are considered definite in reference even if they have not

been mentioned in the preceding sentence or clause.

a. The first group consists of nouns which refer to shared knowledge of the

situation or context. For example, in Canada you can say

The Prime Minister will arrive tomorrow

because there is only one Prime Minister in Canada, and so it is clear to whom

you are referring. Similarly, if there is only one hospital in the town, you can say

He’s been working in the hospital for two years.

But you couldn’t say this in Toronto, where there are many hospitals. You would

have to name the particular hospital in your first reference to it:

He’s been working at Toronto General Hospital for two years. He says the

hospital is in a financial mess.

b. The second group consists of nouns referring to unique objects:

e.g., the sun/the earth/the Pope/the sky/the equator

c. Superlative adjectives and unique adjectives form the third group. Because

there can be only one of these (only one of a series can be the tallest or the best or

the first), they take the definite article:

Mexico City is the most populous city in the world.

I enjoyed the first part, but I was disappointed at the end.

She is the principal researcher.

2. Is the noun modified?

a. Pre-modification: If the noun is preceded by one of the following–


do not use the definite article.

e.g., the red books/some red books/no red book/his red books/each red book

b. Post-modification: if the noun is followed by a dependent clause (who/which/

that) or a prepositional phrase (of/in/to…), it is made definite and takes the

definite article. The man who lives next door is Chinese.

We take the regular collection of garbage for granted.

The journey to Vancouver take three days by train.

No one expected the results that were found.

EXCEPTION: collective nouns take the indefinite article:

a box of matches/a deck of cards/a bar of soap/a herd of cows.

3. Is the noun generic?

Generic reference is used when one refers to a whole group or class, to generalize about

all possible members of a group. There are five patterns one can use:

a. no article PLUS plural count noun:

It’s astonishing what gymnasts can do.

b. no article PLUS uncountable noun:

Love can cause a lot of suffering.

c. indefinite article PLUS singular count noun:

It’s astonishing what a gymnast can do.

[This pattern cannot be used to discuss the location or existence of something/

someone. You cannot say A lion lives in Africa. You must use pattern (a) or (d)].

d. definite article PLUS singular count noun:

It’s astonishing what the gymnast can do.

e. definite article PLUS plural nationality noun:

The Chinese have an ancient culture.

Pattern (a) is most common in colloquial English; pattern (d) is frequently used in

academic writing.

Special Uses of Articles


Media and communications:

Use a noun PLUS definite article to refer to systems of communication and the mass

media, in contrast to the actual machine of communications. The telephone is the system

of communication; a telephone is the actual physical machine.

The newspapers are all in agreement on the latest financial disaster.

[exception: television usually has no article: Did you see him onv television?]

b. Means of transportation:

Use the definite article to refer to the whole transport system, rather than to an individual


How long does it take on the bus?

The subway is quicker.

[if you use the construction “by PLUS means of transport,” there is no article: I go by


c. Forms of entertainment:

To refer to a form of entertainment in general, use the definite article:

I enjoy seeing the ballet.

To refer to a particular event, use the indefinite article:

I saw a good movie last night.

d. Place/object of activity nouns:

Certain nouns refer to either a place/object or to an activity. When they refer to an

activity, do not use the definite article:


I go to bed at 11 o’clock.

She went to school for many years.

Many families eat dinner together.

I shower before breakfast.

They are at church.

She is in class.

e. Directions:

Nouns indicating direction do not take the definite article:

Go two blocks south and turn left.

[Exception: nouns indicating political divisions take the definite article: She is on the left

of the party.]

Periods of time:

f. Names of decades, centuries and historic periods take the definite article, as they are a

form of unique reference:

The 1960s were a time of student rebellion.

Articles adalah kata yang digabungkan dengan kata benda (nouns) yang berfungsi untuk

membatasi atau memodifikasi kata benda. Dalam Bahasa Inggris, hanya ada 3 article, yaitu a, an

dan the.

Di bawah ini akan kami jelaskan lebih detail tentang penggunaan Artikel “the”.

Gunakan apabila Anda ingin mengulang kata benda yang sama pada 1 kesempatan.


1. This is a cat. The cat is brown

Gunakan apabila orang yang kita ajak bicara sudah mengerti betul tentang kata benda

yang kita maksudkan. Contohnya:

1. I am going to the bank.

2. There is someone knocking at the door. It must be the computer repairman. I called him

to come help fix my computer.


Don’t jump on the bed.

The school was too small.

The dinner was delicious.

The breakfast was delicious.

The church is very old.

The class is in Room 102.

Gunakan untuk membicarakan tentang tempat-tempat umum seperti danau, gunung,

pandai, dll. Contohnya:


Let’s go to the beach.

I love to camp in the mountains.


Gunakan di depan kata benda yang cuma ada 1 di dunia ini, atau merupakan satu

kesatuan kelompok seperti bintang, dll. Contohnya:

How many people are there on the earth?



The sky is so beautiful today.


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