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Definite vs. Indefinite Articles
In English, an article is a word that comes before a noun and is used to distinguish between nouns that are specific and nouns that are general. As many other languages do not use them, articles are often a source of challenge for many English-learners.
There are two types of articles in English:
the 'definite' article 'the'
the 'indefinite' articles 'a' and 'an'
The word 'definite' means clear, obvious, specific, exact, precise, etc. Therefore, the word 'indefinite' means vague, general, non-specific, etc. because the prefix 'in-' means 'not'.
Indication of Availability
Note: The biggest difference between 'the' and 'a' or 'an' is their indication or expression of how much is available.
For example, let's take a look at 'the phrases 'the chair' and 'a chair'.
Please get the chair.
When we use 'the chair' we are describing a specific, "special" chair and only that chair!
Maybe there are others chairs available or maybe there are not other chairs available. When use 'the' we are indicating something that is more important than other similar things.
Please get a chair.
When we say 'a chair' we are describing any chair that is available. This means that there must be at least two (2) or more chairs available! Maybe these chairs are the same or maybe they are different, however, they are all equal in their importance.
So, when we use 'a ___' or 'an ___' we are describing one thing that is apart of a group of at least two (2) or more things that are available to use.
Indefinite articles (a, an) are used to describe non-specific objects which are one of a group or number of the same objects. There are at least two (2) or more of those objects available and they are all similar or equal.
She has a dog.
(Many people have dogs and she has one of the many dogs in existence.)
I work in a factory.
(There are many factories in the world and this person works in one of them.)
Please pass me a pen.
(There are many pens available and the person needs any one of them.)
They own a Chinese restaurant.
(There are many (Chinese) restaurants in the world and they own one of them.)
The Definite article (the) is used to describe specific, particular, or known nouns, or nouns that have already been mentioned or referenced.
Maja has the dog.
(This dog is a specific dog, or one that has already been mentioned.)
I work in the sugar factory downtown.
(The factory is not just any factory in the world, it is the (only) factory that produces sugar that is located downtown.)
Please pass me the pen.
(This person wants a specific pen. Maybe it is a specific color, type, or brand, or maybe there is only one pen available.)
They own a Chinese restaurant. The food at their restaurant is delicious but the service is slow.
(This distinguishes between the food and the service at other restaurants. Also, a restaurant has many things in it, chairs, tables, decorations, etc. Food and service are two specific things that are available in a restaurant.)
The definite article is also used to distinguish between two or more similar items.
We live in the blue house on the corner, and they live in the red house up the hill.
My car is the Honda. Yours is the Mercedes, right?
Indefinite and definite articles are often used together in sentences. When we speak of something for the first time we use a or an, and when we speak of it after that, we use the definite article, the or the pronoun 'it'..
I live in a house. The house is quite old
I ate in a Chinese restaurant last night. The restaurant was very good, but the service was slow.
If we continue to speak of it, then the third person singular pronoun 'it' is very often used.
I live in a house. The house is quite old and has four bedrooms. It cost us a lot of money, but it was worth the money. It's so lovely!
I ate in a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was very good. It was recommended to me by some friends at work. Everyone said it was the most authentic in the city, and that it's prices were the best.
Sometimes we talk about things that people have or own and want to distinguish between them and things that other people have or own. When we want to do this, we use the name of the person who owns it or has it and 'a' or 'an' the first time. After that, we use a possessive pronoun to refer to it that to indicate who owns it or has it.
Sarah has a pool in her backyard. Her pool is rectangular.
Alexander works for in an office. His office is located downtown.
Our friends own a Chinese restaurant. The food at their restaurant is delicious but the service is slow.
Identify some items around you and make sentences, ensuring to use definite and indefinite articles. Compare the items with other items that you know of, e.g. "The lamp here is a cheap lamp. The lamp in my apartment is an expensive heirloom." etc.
Write down your sentences and email us at ONLINE TUTORING. We will email you the corrections to your sentences.