Articles, more about "a"
This is the fifth in a series of blog posts about articles. I recommend you read the previous blog posts in this series before you read this one. In the previous article we looked at using a with countable and uncountable nouns. In this blog post we’ll look into using “a”, the indefinite article, in more detail.
common uses of a/an
We use a/an to talk about one person or thing. If the quantity is important use one.
- How many dogs did you see on the way here? I saw one dog.
- Did you see any animals on the way here? Yes, I saw a dog.
- There’s a mouse in the kitchen.
- I’ve only got one sock. The washing machine has eaten the other one.
- My sister has a car.
- Is one car enough for a family?
We use a/an to talk about a member of a class.
- A good workman is known by his tools.
- I’d like to go to a good restaurant.
- A big sofa is a good sofa.
- I want to go on holiday to a warm country.
- Do you know a cheap plumber?
We use a/an to classify and define people and things.
- I’m a keen cyclist.
- I used to live in a Victorian terraced house.
- He’s a teacher.
- A dog is an animal.
- You can use a watch and the sun as a compass.
- Frankenstein was not a monster.
We use a/an for descriptions.
- It was a clear bright morning.
- He has an angry look.
- The politician has a friendly smile.
- This dog is a very good pet.
- You’re an excellent student.
We still use a/an in negative expressions, after prepositions and after fractions.
- I don’t have a watch.
- She hasn’t got a microwave.
- The three bears lived in a wooden house.
- The cat lay on a branch looking down.
- Half a loaf is better than none.
- He could see the sea quarter of a mile away.
We use a/an for jobs and purposes.
- Delia Smith is a famous cook.
- Lady Ada Lovelace was a computer programmer.
- “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!” Monthy Python
- For he’s a jolly good fellow.
- Marie Curie was a famous scientist.
when we don’t use a/an
We don’t use a/an with an adjective without a noun.
- It’s a beautiful day. It’s beautiful.
- She’s a generous person. She’s generous.
- Usain Bolt is a very fast sprinter. Usain Bolt is very fast.
- That’s a good one. That one’s good.
- This is a useful blog post. This blog post is useful.
We don’t use a/an with possessives. Instead we use a…of mine/yours/his/theirs.
Whose colleague is he?
- He’s my colleague.
- He’s a colleague of mine.
- He’s Bob’s colleague.
- He’s a colleague of Bob.
- He’s their colleague.
- He’s a colleague of theirs.
the difference between a and an
We don’t normally pronounce the sound /ə/. Before words that begin with a vowel we use an. This depends on the pronunciation of the word and not on the spelling of the word.
- It’s a beautiful a morning.
- It was an evening to remember.
- A dog was barking in the garden.
- What’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?
Some words that are spelt with an initial vowel are pronounced with an initial consonant.
- That costs a euro.
- It’s a one-in-a-million chance.
- Can you think of a use for this box?
- No, he’s a Ukrainian.
- A pint is a unit of measure.
Some words that are spelt with an initial consonant are pronounced with an initial vowel.
- It’s an honour to meet you.
- Have you ever met an honest politician?
- I’ll be there in an hour.
- Would you like an hors d’œuvre?
Some words spelt with an initial h are pronounced differently in different accents. It’s more common to pronounce the h.
- The Ritz is a hotel.
- The Ritz is an hotel.
- It was a historic occasion.
- It was an historic occasion.