What are the articles in English?
Articles are grammatical elements that modify the noun. There are two types of articles in English: the definite (defined or determined) and the indefinite (indefinite or indeterminate).
Defined Article: The
The Spanish translation of the would be the multiple articles el, la, lo. This article tells us about a specific name. The article has no gender as in Spanish. Let’s see some examples:
- I want the pen – I want the pen
- The flower is red – The flower is red
- This is the house – This is the house
Indefinite article: A or An
Normally we use A or An in the same way we do in Spanish, as an indefinite article. The difference between A and An is that A is used when the next word begins with a consonant and An when it begins with a vowel:
- a book – a book
- an elephant – an elephant
- an orange – an orange
How to Use Articles in English (A, An, and The)
While one of our services is the translation of manuscripts from Spanish to English, we know that our clients often prepare manuscripts in English, and the use of articles (a, an, the) is one of the most complicated aspects of writing in English . This difficulty is not surprising, since different languages have different rules for the use of articles (assuming they even have articles), and the rules in English can seem confusing, even for a native English speaker! However, the correct use of articles is an important way to make your writing seem natural. With this in mind, here are a few useful guidelines that will help you decide when an item is necessary (and which one to use) and also when none is needed.
‘The’ versus ‘A’ / ‘An’
A good rule of thumb is to ask if the name being modified is the only one in its class or if there is more than one form / case. If you are the only one in your class or you are referring to just a specific example, use ‘the’:
- The assay was conducted to identify the organism responsible for the outbreak. (This sentence refers to a specific essay, organism and outbreak.)
- Notice: Articles do not normally appear in titles, sections of headings and legends of figures. (” The effect of different culture temperatures on bacterial growth kinetics” and ” The characterization of a new ginsenoside compound” both must include ‘the’ because specific results are mentioned.)
However, if the name you are modifying is one among many (for example, an example or a single member of a group), you should use ‘a’ or ‘an’:
- A standard genome sequencing protocol was used to identify an exciting new species of Escherichia . (The protocol used was one of the multiple sequencing protocols available, and other Escherichia species have already been identified.)
Other times when you use ‘the’ (and times when it is NOT used)
If you are referring to a noun as representative of each case / individual (for example, a general discussion), it may be appropriate to use ‘the’ with the singular form of the noun. ‘The’ is mainly used in academic writing when referring to machines, animals and body organs.
- The smartphone has made it easier for employees to work from home.
- The dolphin is considered one of the smartest animals.
- The lung contains over 300 million alveoli.
- Note: It is more common to use the plural form of the name in cases like these, but remember to skip the article. (Smartphones have made it easier for employees to work from home. Dolphins are considered some of the smartest animals. Lungs contain over 300 million alveoli.)
However, not all nouns require an article when used in this general way. Total nouns (or uncountable nouns), which refer to abstract or uncountable things, do not need an article:
- Temperature can be expressed in Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin.
- Knowledge is the key to happiness. (But: ” The knowledge that she was receiving an award made her happy” requires an article because reference is being made to a specific understanding.)
Most proper names (such as names of countries or people) also do not require an article:
- Tesla was one of the greatest inventors of all time.
- The samples were collected in Hebei Province.
- Collective proper names are an exception: the Middle East and the Great Lakes
- When a person’s name is part of a theory, proof, etc., it may be more natural to use ‘the’ (for example, ” the Doppler effect” or ” the Riemann hypothesis”). However, you should not use ‘the’ if the name is possessive (for example, Tukey’s test, Riemann’s hypothesis).
‘A’ versus ‘An’
‘ A ‘ is used in front of words that begin with consonant sounds (“a sample” or “a model”), even if the consonant sound is made by means of a vowel (“a unit”). On the contrary, ‘ an ‘ is used in front of words that begin with vowel sounds (“an equation” or “an element”), even if the word begins with a mute consonant (“an hour”).
When we do not put article?
There are several exceptions regarding the omission of the article in English. The main ones are:
- Own names: She is Mrs. Brown – She is Mrs. Brown
- Weeks, months, years, seasons …: We will do it on Friday – We will do it on Friday
- Percentages: I’ll give you 10 percent – I’ll give you 10%
- Body parts with verb to have: My boyfriend has small nose – My boyfriend has a small nose
- When we speak languages: Chinese is difficult to learn – Chinese is difficult to learn
- Speaking of meal times: Lunch is at 1 pm – The meal is at one.
With plurals , we must take into account the meaning we want to give the phrase to know if we will use article or not. For example:
- Cats are fun / The cats are fun – Cats are fun.
In both cases we say that cats are fun. However, when we do not use the definite article the we refer to cats in general and when we use it we talk about cats in particular.
If we want to make a plural of a name with an indefinite article, we will omit the article:
- An apple / apples – an apple / apples
- A chair / chairs – a chair / chairs
- A man / men – a man / men
Using them in one sentence:
- I want an apple / I want apples – I want an apple / I want apples
- I need a chair / I need chairs – I need a chair / I need chairs
- They’re looking for a man / They’re looking for men – They are looking for a man / They are looking for men