Using Articles: A, An, The
Rules for using articles often confuse students who learn English as their second language. Even native speakers of English can have problems in this area! Here are a few pointers:
"A" is used before singular words beginning with a consonant or a word beginning in "h" where the letter is pronounced; "an" is used before singular words beginning in a vowel or with a "silent h":
"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
"A historian gave us a hand for an hour when we were planting an heirloom rose bush in a hothouse. It was an honorable thing to do, so we sang a hymn of praise."
"A" or "an" precede words that refer to general things; "the" comes before words referring to specific things. Imagine two policemen having a conversation:
"Are you sure this is the man who stole the car?"
"No. A witness saw a man, but the man we arrested is not the one."
"Well, he confessed to stealing a car."
"That's true, but was it the car we picked up on Plum Street?"
Sometimes these straightforward rules can get confusing. Consider these examples:
"That is a book you borrowed last month."
"That is the book you borrowed last month."
Note that both are correct! In the first example, the second speaker implies that the other person may have borrowed more than one book last month. In the second example, there is no doubt: last month the first person borrowed one book from the second person.
Some general words take no article at all.
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