Indefinite and Definite Articles – “The”, “A”, and “An”

08.03.23 Parts of speech Time to read: 5min

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Certain language rules in the English language are pivotal for effective communication, and a prime example is the correct application of special identifiers called articles. These are words positioned before nouns and noun phrases, and their accurate use is a testament to one’s proficiency in English speaking or writing. Importantly, there are three types of articles, grouped into two primary classes: definite and indefinite.

Indefinite and Definite Articles – In a Nutshell

Articles are essential components of the English language. Both the definite and indefinite articles are critical in identifying nouns and noun phrases. English speakers and writers should use a definite article when referring to specific nouns and an indefinite article for non-specific nouns. As a general rule;

  • An indefinite article should not be used with noncountable nouns
  • Avoid using articles with plural nouns, unless necessary
  • Not all countries should be accompanied by a definite article.
  • Use definite and indefinite articles with abbreviations and acronyms as per the pronunciation of the acronym.

Definition: Articles

An article is a word that identifies a noun or noun phrase by giving more information about it. In principle, articles are used before a noun, defining whether the use of such a noun is in general, specific, plural, or singular forms. There are only three articles in English, including ‘a,’ ‘an,’ and ‘the’. These are categorized as either definite or indefinite.

Definite articles

An article is considered definite when used to introduce specific noun phrases or nouns. It may be used in front of uncountable, countable, singular, and plural nouns. In the English language, ‘the’ is the only article under this category.


Noun Type Definite Article Examples
Countable Nouns The box, the cat, the bag, the house
Noncountable Nouns The music, the gas, the information, the research
Singular Nouns The man, the apple, the tree, the portrait
Plural Nouns The foxes, the ships, the babies, the beaches

Indefinite articles

An indefinite article is used with general, non-specific nouns or noun phrases. An indefinite article can also be applied when referring to a noun or noun phrase for the first time or when describing someone’s profession. The English language has two indefinite article types; ‘a’ and ‘an.’

While indefinite articles are applied the same way, the article ‘an’ is used before a vowel and the article ‘a’ before a consonant.


Indefinite Articles Examples
A A letter, a truck, a stamp, a town, a woman
An An egg, an airplane, an umbrella, an accountant
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Avoid using articles with plural nouns

An article is generally unnecessary when referring to plural nouns, especially countable plural nouns applied in a general sense. If you are using plural nouns, you can as well go ahead without applying any article.


  • The surveys were undertaken to explain specific facts
  • I saw the monkeys in the park
  • He did an embarrassing things on his birthday
  • She has a pens in her bag


  • Surveys were undertaken to explain specific facts
  • I saw monkeys in the park
  • He did embarrassing things on his birthday
  • She has pens in her bag

The exception is that you can use an article with plural nouns only when such nouns are applied in a more specific sense.


Example Explanation
Hundreds of students were involved in collecting data from the affected victims. The surveys were undertaken to explain In this case, you are talking about the specific data collected by a group of students, and not surveys in general.
A lot has been said about Mandrill monkeys. I saw the monkeys in the park yesterday. Here, you are referring to a specific type of monkeys that has been a topic of discussion, which are the same ones you saw in the park. This is opposed to use of monkeys in general.

Don’t use indefinite articles with noncountable nouns

An uncountable noun is anything that is seen or perceived as a unit or whole and cannot be divided into smaller elements. Examples of noncountable nouns include sugar, knowledge, love, air, water, and beauty.

You cannot use an indefinite article with noncountable nouns since it is impossible to have such items in singular forms. For instance, you cannot have one piece of water or air as there is no measure of what such a unit can be equated to.

If you want to use an article with a noncountable noun, the best way is to have the noncountable noun precede a countable noun. Alternatively, you can use a countable noun in place of the noncountable noun.

Incorrect Correct
A wisdom was shared A wisdom lesson was shared

An insight was shared
A love is a beautiful thing A love story is a beautiful thing

An affection is a beautiful thing

Using articles with singular countable nouns

Generally, singular countable nouns cannot be used without determiners. Examples of singular countable nouns include teacher, test, lake, and book. If you are not using a demonstrative or possessive determiner, then you will need to apply an article before nouns and noun phrases.

Incorrect Correct
During the graduation, teacher was applauded During the graduation, the teacher was applauded

During the graduation, a teacher was applauded

During the graduation, our teacher was applauded

During the graduation, this teacher was applauded
I perused through book before the test I perused through the book before the test

I perused through my book before the test

I perused through this book before the test

I perused through a book before the test

Indefinite articles with acronyms – ‘A’ and ‘An’

Generally, you need article ‘a’ and ‘an’ before nouns starting with consonants and vowels, respectively. This is also true when it comes to acronyms. These are words formed from the first letters of a collection of other words and pronounced singly.

To determine whether to use the article ‘a’ or ‘an’ before an acronym, you will first need to establish how such an acronym should be pronounced.


  • A NASA specialist is meeting an EU-approved vaccinologist
  • When you see an SPF symbol on your sunscreen, you do not have to worry about an UVB-induced inflammation.

Definite articles with acronyms

When applying the definite article ‘the’ in reference to acronyms relating to countries or organizations, you must follow the special guidelines created for such use. The general determiner is whether the acronym in question is read out as a single word or a letter-by-letter word.

Countries and organizations with acronyms read out letter by letter are accompanied by the article ‘the.’


  • The EU
  • The US
  • The UN
  • The UK
  • The UAE
  • The UNHCR

On the other hand, acronyms read out as single words are not to be used with the article ‘the.’


  • FIFA
  • SWAT

Articles with countries

The use of an article is not necessary when referring to most countries. However, in specific circumstances, you may be required to add an article before a country as follows:

Circumstances Example
When the name of the country is in plural or holds a plural phrase or word The Philippines, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, the Bahamas, the United States of America
When a common noun is used to define the country’s name. Such nouns include State, Republic, Kingdom, or Federation The Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, the United Statee, the Czech Republic
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Definite articles are used before a specific noun or noun phrase. On the other hand, an indefinite article is used with non-specific or general nouns.

In English, there are only three types of articles. ‘a’ and ‘an’ are classified as indefinite articles, while the article ‘the’ falls under the definite article category.

The general rule in the application of indefinite articles is that ‘a’ should precede a noun or noun phrase beginning with a consonant. Consequently, the article ‘an’ should be used before nouns or noun phrases starting with a vowel.

It is difficult to define when an article should be omitted when using the English language. However, in general, you can omit an article when using possessive adjectives, when noun phrases are used as general topics, and when referring to countries without the ‘lands,’ ‘kingdom,’ and ‘states’ phrases.