A-An-The Rules


  • Use “A” when you mean one.  A car, a friend, a pencil.
  • Don’t use A with plural.  Plural means more than one!
  • Don’t use A with noncount.  If you can’t count, you can’t have one.


  • Use “An” when you mean one.  An apple, an interesting movie
  • Use “An” when the next sound is a vowel sound.  An umbrella  An old coat.
  • Don’t use An with plural or noncount.  Like “A,” it means ONE.
  • Don’t use An before “U” when it sounds like YOU.   A university.  A unit.
  • Use An before “H” if the “H” is silent.  An herb.  An honor.  An historic occasion.


  • Use nothing (no a, no an) before a plural noun. (you can use “the” before a plural noun.  The children are in the park.)
  • Use nothing (no a, no an) before a noncount noun.  (You can use “the” before a noncount noun.  The milk tastes bad.)
  • Use nothing if you have a possessive adjective: my car, your class.  Not, a hisjacket   not  the my sister.
  • Use nothing if you don’t have a noun.   NOT “a funny”, but    A funny movie.(movie is a noun)
    NOT “the happy”.   The happy children. (children is a noun)
    NOT “an early”.    An early class.  (class is a noun)


  • Second time you talk about it – I saw a dog today.  The dog was big.

Unique – the listener/reader knows which one you mean

  • Ordering – the first, the second, the third…
  • Superlatives – the best, the fastest, the tallest, the worst…
  • Everyone knows it – the moon, the earth
  • Everyone knows it in this place – the blackboard, the ceiling
  • Everyone knows it in this group – Dad, can I have the car?
  • Tell which one by pointing – the book, the chair
  • Tell which one with a phrase –  the house with red windows, the girl who is sitting outside
  • The ____ of ____,  or   The _____ that _____    (defined in the sentence)
  • Parts of something – when talking about a house: the windows, the garden…

More uses of “THE”

  • Countries viewed as federations or unions – The USA, the United Kingdom, the Philippines…
  • Mountains/lakes if they are a set (not just one) – the Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains, the Alps…
  • Oceans/Seas – the Mediterranean, the Pacific Ocean
  • Rivers – the Amazon, the Nile, the Mississippi River
  • Deserts – the Sahara, the Mohave Desert…
  • Some specific diseases – the flu, the mumps.
  • Inventions – The electric light was invented in 18??.  I heard it on the radio. I like the computer.
  • Public buildings – the post office, the library, the bank, the hospital.

Special Cases

Activities:  school, Church, Temple, prison, TV, bed. –  “The” means the physical thing. No “the” means the activity.

  •   I go to school on Tuesdays (meaning I study).
  •   I go to the school to pick up my kids (meaning the place).
  •   I watch TV (activity).
  •   I put the flowers on the TV (in that place).  The TV is broken (the machine).
  •   I go to bed late. (meaning I sleep)
  •   I make the bed when I get up. (meaning arrange the physical place)
  •   My brother went to prison. (he was arrested)
  •   I go to the prison to visit him. (the physical place)

Home no article – I’m going home.  This is an extension of the rule above.  “House” is a physical thing.  “Home” is a feeling.  We say make yourself “at home.”

Meals – No “the” with breakfast, lunch, dinner.  I ate lunch.  Lunch is ready!  Not “the lunch.”  Use an article “a” if you add an adjective “That was a great lunch.”  “I usually eat a big dinner.”

RULE:  Every singular count noun must have a determiner.  I determiner can be an article or it can be a possessive (my, your, the boss’, my friend’s), or it can be words like this, that, these, those, each, every, per, one, some, no.

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