John’s English Blog

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

Definite and indefinite articles

Articles, titles, roles, illnesses, what!, body and meals


This is the thirteenth 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 dates, days, months, seasons, quantity, amount, number, volume and measurements. In this blog post we’ll look at titles, illnesses, exclamations, the body and meals.

titles and roles

We don’t use the in titles of people.

  • Queen Elizabeth II opens parliament every year.
  • Prime Minister Winston Churchill was very famous.
  • Baron Sugar is a billionaire.
  • Captain Mainwaring often said, “You stupid boy”.
  • Reverend Coles was a pop star.

In formal speech or writing we use the with certain titles. Eg reverend is an adjective, but informally we treat it as a noun.

  • The Reverend Richard Coles was a pop star.
  • The Right Honourable Diane Abbott MP was first elected in 1987.

We use the for roles.

  • The Queen opens parliament every year.
  • The Prime Minister is in a spot of bother.
  • The Lord Clapton is a billionaire.
  • The Captain in Dad’s Army often said, “You stupid boy”.
  • The Reverend was a pop star.


We don’t use the or a/an with illnesses, because they are uncountable.

  • Measles is a dangerous disease.
  • In Victorian times many people died of tuberculosis.
  • I had chicken pox when I was a child. It itched a lot.
  • If you have asthma then you might have to use an inhaler.
  • Sitting all day can give you backache.
  • Too much cake can give you indigestion.

For some illnesses we use a/an.

  • Turn down that music; I’ve got a headache.
  • I can’t smell anything, because I have a cold.
  • It’s difficult to teach with a sore throat.
  • He’s got a fever; his temperature is 39 Celsius.
  • Too much cake can give you a stomach ache.

For some common illnesses we use the informally.

  • Are you sure you haven’t got the flu?
  • She might have the mumps.
  • Some children catch the measles.


When we make exclamations with what we use a/an with singular countable nouns.

  • Oh, what a beautiful morning!
  • What a wonderful world!
  • What a great shot! He plays really well.
  • What a shame! Better luck next time!
  • What a feeling!

When we make exclamations with what we don’t use an article with uncountable nouns.

  • What rubbish! You can’t mean that!
  • What luck! It was a long shot!
  • What utter stupidity!
  • What infamy!

When we make exclamations with what we often add a countable noun to an uncountable noun.

  • What a load of rubbish!
  • What a stroke of luck!
  • What a load of nonsense!

the body

We usually use possessives when we talk about parts of the body.

  • He’s really put his foot in it.
  • I broke my hand cycling.
  • Watch your head! The doorway is a bit low.
  • They ran their fingers through the sand.
  • We turned our backs to the wind.

We usually use the after prepositions when the action it’s someone else’s body or it’s reflexive.

  • He shot himself in the foot.
  • She led me by the hand.
  • He touched me on the arm.
  • I bruised myself on the arm.
  • He greeted her with a peck on the cheek.


We don’t normally use an article when talking about meals.

  • I eat breakfast every morning.
  • Everyone should have a nap after lunch.
  • Dinner’s ready!
  • Do you want to come to dinner on Friday?
  • Scones are essential for afternoon tea.

If there is an adjective before the noun or a clause after it, then we use an article.

  • I eat a big breakfast every morning.
  • That was a lunch fit for a king.
  • Do you fancy a fish supper?
  • There’s an all-you-can-eat brunch on Sundays.
  • Let’s grab a quick lunch.

When it’s a special event or a set meal we use an article.

  • Are you coming to the Christmas dinner?
  • The hotel offers a Champagne breakfast.
  • There’s a lunch for everyone on the team.
  • My nephew’s having a birthday tea.
  • The wedding took place at 8pm and the dinner was at midnight.


Back to the article

  1. He picked the dog up by the scruff of the neck.
  2. What a fluke! You were so lucky.
  3. The first person to swim the English Channel was Captain Matthew Webb.
  4. What a load of old codswallop!
  5. I’m going to the presentation for the free lunch.
  6. Is hypochondria a serious problem?
  7. King Alfred established English as an official language.
  8. the Chancellor of the Exchequer is never popular.
  9. He might have broken his leg.
  10. I’m sorry, she can’t come out; she’s got the mumps.
  11. It’s just a cold; I’ll be right as rain in no time.
  12. Are you coming to the lunch for the visitors?
  13. What bravery!
  14. The carpenter hit himself on the thumb with a hammer.
  15. He’s running the fever; maybe it’s the flu.
  16. I’ve got a splitting headache.
  17. She appears to have a severe case of schoolitis.
  18. Oh, the grand old duke of York, he had 10,000 men.
  19. In The City on Fridays many people used to have a liquid lunch.
  20. Sir Francis Drake singed the King of Spain’s beard.
  21. What humility!
  22. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  23. What’s the best thing to eat for breakfast?
  24. He’s finishing work late, but we could meet for supper.
  25. I think I’ve twisted my ankle.

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

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