6 simple rules for using articles in English (Level A1)

In this lesson, we will look at 6 simple rules for using articles. Understanding when to use A/AN or THE is difficult in English, but by the end of this lesson you will be able to you use the right word for CEFR Level A1.

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Rule #1: Use A or AN the first time you talk about something that the person listening to you doesn’t know.

  • DAVID: “Do you have any pets?”
  • JANE “Yes, I have a cat and 2 dogs. The cat is 5 years old and the dogs are 7 and 9.”

In this conversation, Jane says ‘I have A cat’. This is the first time that David has heard this information, and that’s why Jane uses ‘A’. In the next sentence, Jane says ‘THE cat is 5 years old’ because now David knows about her cat.

Rule #2: Use A or AN when it is not important exactly which thing you are talking about.

  • Can I borrow a pen? (it doesn’t matter which pen)
  • Do you want an apple? (it doesn’t matter which apple)

Rule #3: We use THE when we are talking about a particular item.

  • Where is the pen is was using? (the particular pen that speaker had before)
  • I ate the apple that was on my desk. (the particular apple that was on the desk)

Here’s an example showing rule #2 and #3:

  • DAVID: “Can I borrow a pen?”
  • JANE “What happened to the pen that Eric gave you a few minutes ago?”

David asks for any pen, it doesn’t matter which one. Jane replies asking about a particular pen – the pen Eric gave to David.

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Rule #4: We only use A or AN for single things (only one).

  • He has a car (a single car)
  • She has 2 cars (more than one car)

Rule #5: We use THE when there is only one or it is clear which one the speaker is talking about.

  • The sun is shining (there is only one sun)
  • The Queen of England there is only one Queen of England)
  • Your coat is one the chair (it’s clear from what they can see WHICH chair they are talking about)
  • I think I left my wallet in the car! (it’s their car or they both know which car they are talking about)

Rule #6: We use A before a vowel sound and AN before a consonant sound.

To understand this rule, you need to know that vowels are the letters A, E, I, O and U and consonants are the other letters (B, C, D etc)

So for example:

  • Do you want AN apple or A banana?

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Remember that this rule is used on the SOUND of a word, not the spelling. A word like ‘hour’ for example, SOUNDS like ‘our’ because we don’t say the ‘H’, so it take AN, not A. Here are some more examples:

  • He works in a university (university SOUNDS like you-niversity, so uses A)
  • Berlin is a European country (European sounds like you-ropean, so uses A)
  • He’s an FBI agent (FBI sounds like EFF-BI so uses AN)
  • He is an honest man (honest sounds like onest, so uses A)

We hope these 6 simple rules for using articles have helped! Now try this practice exercise to test your knowledge!

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