What are Definite, Indefinite Articles? Definition, Examples of English Articles

Definite and indefinite articles are parts of speech referring to the terms “the,” “a,” and “an.”

Definite articles definition: a determiner (the) that introduces specific nouns and noun phrases.

Indefinite articles definition: a determiner (a, an) that introduces nonspecific nouns and noun phrases.

What is an Article?

What is a definite article? A definite article is a part of speech that identifies a specific noun. “The” is the only definite article.

Placing “the” before a noun makes it specific. In order to say “the book,” the audience has to know to what book you are referring.

What is an indefinite article? An indefinite article is a part of speech that identifies a nonspecific noun. “A” and “an” are the only indefinite articles.

Placing “a” or “an” before a noun makes it nonspecific. To say “a book” refers to any book, not a single specific book.

the a vs the vs aThe examples below will further outline the difference.

  • a cow (nonspecific—could be any cow)
  • the cow (specific—referring to a particular cow)
  • an animal (nonspecific—could be any animal)
  • the animal (specific—referring to a particular animal)

Two Types of Articles: Definite and Indefinite Articles

The Definite Article

The definite article is “the.” “The” refers to a particular noun that is understood. The audience is aware of the object of reference and no further identification is needed.

What is a indefinite article Definite Article Examples:

  • singular
    • the chair, the city, the manager
  • plural
    • the chairs, the cities, the managers
  • count
    • the boxes, the towns, the women
  • non-count
    • the food, the luggage, the electricity

The Indefinite Article

The indefinite article is “a” / “an” “A” and “an” refer to nonspecific nouns. The object of reference is not clear and further identification would be needed to know the exact object.

Indefinite Article Examples:

  • singular
    • a chair, a city, a manager
  • plural—CANNOT BE USED
  • count
    • a box, a town, a woman
  • non-count—CANNOT BE USED

A vs. An: Remember A/An Depends on Sound

Which indefinite article to use (“a” or “an”), depends on the initial sound of the noun.

Articles a an the When to use A: If the initial sound of the noun when pronounced is a consonant sound, “a” is used.

  • a bowl
  • a gnat
  • a hoax
  • A few days after Britain voted to leave the European Union, Monika Baginski was in a supermarket, chatting with a friend on the phone in her native Polish, when a man followed her down the aisle. –The New York Times

When to use An: If the initial sound of the noun when pronounced is a vowel sound, “an” is used.

  • an apple
  • an eel
  • an honor
  • A catchy soundtrack used to be enough, but the 21st century needs an app to publicize shark activity near New England’s coasts. –The Christian Science Monitor

Exercises with Articles: Indefinite vs. Definite Articles

Select the appropriate article (a, an, the) and fill-in the blank below.

  1. Do you have ___ different table available?
  2. He was searching for ____ right word to describe the situation.
  3. This is ___ last time I will remind you to do your chores.
  4. Braxten brought ___ apricot, ___ sandwich, and ____ cookie for lunch.
  5. My mom demanded ____ explanation.

See answers below.

Articles and Proper Nouns

Is the an article For the most part, articles are not used with proper nouns. However, some exceptions apply.

Use Articles With:

  • family names
    • the Smith Family, the Jones Family
  • kingdoms, states, republics, island groups, and plural noun countries
    • the United Kingdom, the United States, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the Canary Islands,
  • mountain ranges, rivers, oceans
    • the Rocky Mountains, the Amazon, the Atlantic Ocean
  • newspapers, organizations, hotels, buildings
    • the New York Times, the Red Cross, the Hyatt, the Capitol Building

Summary: What are Definite and Indefinite Articles in English?

Define definite article: The definition of a definite article is a determiner (the) used to identify a specific noun or noun phrase.

Define indefinite article: The definition of an indefinite article is a determiner (a, an) used to identify a nonspecific noun or noun phrase

In summary, articles can be definite or indefinite.

When to use the: Use a definite article (the) when the noun is a known entity.

When to use a, an: Use indefinite articles (a/an) when the noun is an unknown entity.

Answers:

  1. a
  2. the
  3. the
  4. an, a, a
  5. an