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Concourse 2

articles

beef petrol freighter
I don't eat beef
The beef looks delicious
We need petrol
The car's empty
There's a ship in the harbour
The ship he is on leaves soon

Many people find the English article system difficult to learn.

What is your first language?

If you language is in this list, it will not use articles:
Polish, Czech, Russian, Slovak, Chinese languages, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Thai and other South-East Asian languages and some other European languages such as Finnish and Basque.

If your language is in this list, it does use articles but often in a way that is not like English at all:
Greek, Hungarian, Spanish, Italian, French, Romanian, Catalan, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, German, Dutch, Afrikaans.

The main rules one by one

The first questions

  1. Am I talking about one of many?
  2. Does it matter which?

For example:

  1. I need a chair means that I want to sit down but it does not matter to me which chair you bring.
  2. I like sweets means that I enjoy eating sweets in general.  It does not matter now which sweets we are talking about.
  3. Information is useful means any information not some particular information is useful.

Now ask: Is it plural, singular or uncountable?

think Task 1: To check, can you put the ticks in the right boxes here?
Click on the table when you have an answer.

plural singular uncountable

Notice that sheep can be both singular and plural.  It is one of those words in English which has an irregular plural.  There aren't many.

Here's the rule:

If the answers to question 1 is yes and the answer to question 2 is no:
Uncountable or plural: use no article
Singular: use a or an
test Task 2: Can you apply the rule?
Click here to test yourself.

The second questions

  1. Am I talking about all of it or them, everywhere?
    1. Is it plural?
    2. Is it singular?
    3. Is it uncountable?

For example:

  1. Lions are dangerous.
  2. Sugar is bad for you.
  3. The printing press was invented in Germany.
  4. People are generous in my country.
  5. Clean water is a basic human right.
  6. Who discovered the Theory of General Relativity?
write Task 3: What's the rule?
Click here when you have written it down.
test Task 4: Can you apply the rule?
Click here to test yourself.

The third questions

  1. Do I mean these, this or this one specifically?
  2. Is it a person or a place?

For example:

  1. The lions in that zoo are dangerous.
  2. The sugar in that bowl is for you.
  3. The man in the red jacket is his brother.
  4. John came late.
  5. Mexico is in North America.

This is the easiest rule:

If the answers to question 4 is yes: use the for plural, singular and uncountable nouns
If the answer to question 5 is yes: use no article

There's no test for this rule – it's too easy!

The three rules

Here's a summary:

  1. If I am talking about one of many and it doesn't matter which one:
    1. If the noun is uncountable or plural: use no article
    2. If the noun is singular: use a or an
  2. If I am talking about all of them everywhere:
    1. If the noun is singular: use the
    2. If the noun is plural or uncountable: use no article
  3. If I am talking about this one, this or these specifically;
    1. Use the for plural, singular and uncountable nouns
    2. Use no article for people and places
test Task 4: Now take a test of all three rules.
Click here to test yourself.