University of Houston-Victoria

University College

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
the
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.


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

Articles

Indefinite

Definite

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)