John’s English Blog

I’m John, an English language teacher. Welcome to my blog.

Definite and indefinite articles

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.


Back to the article

  1. How many biscuits are left? There’s one biscuit left.
  2. What’s in that tin? There’s a biscuit.
  3. Have you got a moment?
  4. What can I do with one shoe?
  5. A good student is on time.
  6. good students are on time.
  7. A chocolate cake is a tasty cake.
  8. chocolate cakes are my weakness.
  9. You’re a clever student.
  10. Bob hasn’t got a suit.
  11. The centre is five miles away.
  12. Practising every day is a good habit.
  13. I like students.
  14. The castle is half a mile away.
  15. Muhammad Ali was a great boxer.
  16. The shop assistant was a helpful.
  17. That’s an opportunity that comes once in a life time.
  18. Have you been to a European country?
  19. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  20. Have you been to an African country?
  21. He’s an English teacher.
  22. Is your teacher English?
  23. My teacher is on time.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. If you have any comments, questions or corrections please write them below.

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