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The article is an important type of adjective. This handout will discuss the two different types of articles, their purpose, and how they can be used properly in English writing.

A and an are indefinite articles and refer to any member of a general group. A is used before singular words that start with consonant sounds. An is used before singular words starting with a vowel sound. Note: The choice between a and an depends on sound, not on spelling! Hence one would write “a European” and “an honor.” If there is an adjective between the article and the noun, the beginning sound of the adjective determines whether a or an is used. Note also that plural words cannot take a or an.

The is a definite article and refers to something specific.

Rules for Using Articles

Do not use an article with non-countable nouns (like air or love):

The definite article (the) is used with non-countable nouns which have modifying phrases or clauses which limit (and thereby make more specific) the non-countable noun.

Do NOT use the definite article (the) before:

DO use the definite article (the) before:

Credit: Adapted from the Online Writing Lab at Purdue, and from Lydia Fash, University Writing Program, 2020.