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A, An or The?
Understanding Articles


The words a, an, and the are called articles, also known as determiners. These words are used to modify nouns, pronouns, and words acting as nouns. They may also be separated from the noun or pronoun by one or more adjectives.


Examples: the ball
big red ball


Sometimes these little words can cause a lot of confusion! They can especially cause added confusion for students for whom English is a second language. Since some languages don’t use articles, whereas others use an article for every noun, it can get rather tricky deciding when to use or what to use. Here are a few rules you must keep in mind to better understand the appropriate use of these words.

Articles are classified as either indefinite or definite.

and an are called indefinite articles and the is called the definite article.

a cat (any cat) the cat (any specific cat, the cat in the tree)
A magazine (any magazine) the magazine (the magazine on the shelf)

Next, this handout breaks into three pages that further discuss indefinite articles, definite articles, and exceptions to the use of articles.

  1. Indefinite Articles: a and an
  2. Definite Article: the
  3. Exceptions: No Articles

Additionally, you can test your understanding with Student Success Center Exercises for Articles.