John’s English Blog

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

Definite and indefinite articles

Articles, making generalizations.


This is the eighth 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 when to use the determiners some and any. In this blog post we’ll look at the use of the and a/an when making generalizations.

uncountable and plural nouns

We don’t use the with uncountable or plural nouns to make generalizations. To make generalizations we use no article.

  • Put the cakes on the table and call the kids.
    Cakes are delicious.
  • Who moved the cheese?
    Cheese is better with bread than crackers.
  • Learning a language takes time – that’s the nature of the beast.
    Poets often write about nature.
  • Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space.
    Put the milk in the space between the ketchup and the juice.
  • “Anarchy is as detestable in grammar as it is in society.” Maurice Duron.
    The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed in 1837.
  • Life is beautiful.
  • He’s the life and soul of the party.
  • “You gotta have soul

singular countable nouns

We can make generalizations by using the with a singular countable noun. We do this a lot with animals, plants, inventions and instruments.

  • The penguin is a strange kind of bird.
  • The lioness does the lion’s share of the hunting.
  • The potato comes from South America.
  • The cedar is the national emblem of Lebanon.
  • It takes years to learn to play the piano.
  • As a child I tried to learn the violin; my music teacher suffered a lot.
  • The original Walkman was released in 1979.
  • Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439 AD.

We can make generalizations by talking about an example of a class using a/an.

  • A good workman is known by his tools.
  • A good student makes mistakes.
  • A good teacher is patient.
  • A chocolate cake is an excellent snack.
  • I love a cup of coffee in the morning.
  • A meal is not a meal without dessert.
  • A dog needs a walk every day.


Back to the article

  1. What do you think about electric scooters?
  2. plain chocolate digestives are better than milk chocolate digestives.
  3. “Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.” The Wind in the Willows.
  4. potatoes are a staple food in many countries.
  5. a camel can drink 200 litres of water in 3 minutes.
  6. What is a day in the life of a teacher really like?
  7. the palm tree grows well in hot climates.
  8. badgers are nocturnal.
  9. Sherlock Holmes played the violin.
  10. a badger can run quickly.
  11. Sometimes life is tough.
  12. Her neighbour enjoyed playing the drums until 3am.
  13. George Formby was famous for playing the ukulele.
  14. I love the sea and the mountains. I really love nature.
  15. a smile is the best make-up any girl can wear.” Marilyn Monroe
  16. “Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her two friends” Jane Austen.
  17. the camel is known as the ship of the desert.
  18. potato is the main ingredient in mashed potato.
  19. camels store fat in their humps.
  20. Some people say that a man and a woman can never be friends.
  21. computer programmers are machines that turn coffee into code.
  22. Could you fetch the plain chocolate digestives from the cupboard.
  23. With computers we can print lots of documents.
  24. the shipping container has revolutionized global trade.
  25. the customer is always right.
  26. a line is the shortest distance between two points.
  27. Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer.
  28. the hammer is a very useful tool.
  29. beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
  30. the coconut tree is a type of palm tree.
  31. the badger lives underground.
  32. He played guitar on the album.
  33. “she began, as they met, to admire the beauty of the place” Jane Austen.

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

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