We use a number of words in front of common nouns which we call determiners because they determine the meaning of the noun. Singular countable nouns must have a determiner in front of them (an/the apple). We can divide determiners in two classes:
1. words which help us to classify or identify:
-indefinite article: I bought a new shirt yesterday. (it is not necessary to say
-definite article: The shirt I am wearing now is new. (I am telling you which)
-demonstratives: I bought this/that shirt yesterday. (the one I am showing)
-possessives: Do you like my new shirt? (the one that belongs to me)
2. Words which enable us to indicate quantity:
-numbers: I bought two shirts yesterday. (that’s how many I bought)
-quantifiers: I didn’t buy many new shirts today. (not a great number)
There isn’t much sugar here. (not a great quantity)
Although it sometimes happens that we don’t use article at all, in most cases it’s necessary to use them. This “non-use” of article is also very important that it has got its own name- the zero article ᴓ.
We must be familiar with countable and uncountable nouns because they affect our choice of article. There are certain rules for using articles:
- a/an is used only in front of a singular countable noun – a hat, an apple
The man who lives next door is a doctor.
My sister is an architect.
-the can be used in front of a singular countable noun (the hat), a plural countable (the hats) and in front of an uncountable noun (the water)
The architect who designed this building won a prize.- in front of singular countable noun
The architects who designed this building won a prize.- plural countable noun
The milk you bought yesterday is in the fridge . – uncountable noun
-zero is often used in front of a plural countable (hats) and in front of uncountable (water)
The people who work next door are architects. – plural countable noun
Sugar is bad for you . – uncountable noun
As you could see we use indefinite article a in front of nouns starting in consonant and article an in front of nouns with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u) or letter h as their first letter.
a boy, a girl, an apple, an elephant, an industry, an order, an ugly man, an hour
We use indefinite article a/an:
-in general statements: An architect is a person who designs buildings. A clever politician never promises too much.
-in descriptive labels: Johnny is a doctor. She’s an officer.
-to refer to “a certain person”: A Mr Brown phoned and left a message for you. A Mrs Tadley is waiting for you.
- when referring to quantity: I’d like an apple (meaning only one apple and it doesn’t matter which)
-in referring to measures: 40 miles an hour, twice a day, 80p a kilo
- after “what” and “such”- What a surprise! It was such an honour!
-with reference to illnesses/conditions- I’ve got a headache/a cold.
We use definite article the:
-in general statements when we refer to something specific: The cobra is very dangerous. (a certain class of snakes)
-in groups as a whole:
a) “the” + nationality adjective: The British (the British people in general) The British and the Americans have been aliens for a long time.
b) “the” + plural names; families (The Price sisters are on holiday), races (The Europeans are smart.), politics (The Liberals want electoral reform.)
-for specifying- the postman (the one who always delivers our mail), the village (the one we visited last summer)
-in time sequences- In the past, I used to be a very naughty boy.
- with the parts of a day- in the morning, in the evening
-with the seasons- the summer, the winter, the spring, the fall
-in reading dates: 4 May- the fourth of May
We use zero article ᴓ before three types of nouns:
1. Plural countable nouns - beans
2. Uncountable nouns (always singular) – water
3. Proper nouns – John
These are examples for general statements:
Zero article + plural countable nouns :
People: Women are fighting for their rights.
Places: Museums are closed on Mondays.
Food: Beans are very healthy.
Occupations: Doctors save lives to people.
Nationalities: Italians make delicious ice-cream.
Animals: Cats do not like cold water.
Insects: Ants are found in all parts of the world.
Plants: Trees don’t grow in the Antarctic.
Products: Watches have become very popular.
Zero article + uncountable nouns (always singular):
Food: You should avoid a lot of sugar.
Drink: Water must be pure if you want to drink it.
Substances: You need oil when you make a cake.
Collections: Money is necessary for living.
Colours: Blue is my favourite colour.
Activities (-ing): Smoking is very bad for the health.
Sport, games: Football is played all over the world.
Abstracts: Life is short; art is long.
Languages: English is a world language.
Zero article + proper nouns:
First names: Elizabeth was my mother’s name.
Surnames: This car belongs to Mr. Brown.
Full names: Elizabeth Brown works for this company.
Initials: E. Brown is the pseudonym of a famous writer.
Zero article + titles :
How can I help you, Miss/Mister?
It is my liver, Doctor.
May I introduce you to Captain/Colonel/Major Rogers?
Thank you, uncle/aunt/auntie.
Wilson became/was elected President of the USA.
Zero article for days, months, seasons and holidays:
Mondays are always difficult. Monday is always a difficult day.
June is my favourite month. Spring is always a lovely season.
Christmas is the time for family and friends.
Zero article for artists and their work:
The names of artists can represent their work as a whole:
Bach gives me a lot of pleasure . ( Bach’s music)
Chaucer is very entertaining. (Chaucer’s writing)
Zero article for academic subjects and related topics:
Art, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Physics etc, also combinations like Renaissance Art, American History etc.
History is not so difficult subject.
English is a difficult language to learn well.
Zero article for times of the day and night:
Combinations are common with at, by, after, and before:
at dawn/daybreak, at sunrise/sunset/noon/midnight/dusk/night, by day/night, before morning, at/by/before/after 4 o’clock
Zero articles for meals:
Let’s have breakfast.
Dinner is served.
Michael is at lunch.
Zero article for nouns like “school”, “hospital” etc:
The following nouns are used with the zero article when we refer to their “primary purpose”, the activity associated with them e.g. He is in bed (for the purpose of sleeping)
bed, church, class, college, court, hospital, market, prison, school, sea, town, university, work.
But note the use of these nouns when they are specified:
Your bag is under the bed.
My daughter is in school . (zero article because she is pupil, she goes in school for the purpose of studing)
but note this: There was a parent meeting in the school today. (school is specified- it is the one that children of these parents go to- and there is definite article the because parents were there just for the meeting not for its purpose of studying)
Mary is in hospital. She has broken her leg . (she’s patient there)
but I was in the hospital today. I visited Mary. (I was temporary there, I’m not the patient.)
The same thing happens with noun prison.
Zero article for transport:
by air, by bicycle, by bike, by boat, by bus, by car, by coach, by land, by plane, by sea, by ship, by train, by tube, on foot
I travelled by bus. I came by bike.
Zero article in fixed phrases:
arm in arm, face to face, keep in mind, from top to bottom, hand in hand, make friends, make fun of etc.
Zero article for “pairs” joined by “and”:day and night, father and son, husband and wife light and dark, young and old, pen and ink, sun and moon
- Verbs tenses
- Present Tenses
- Present Simple Tense
- Present Continous Tense
- Present Perfect Tense
- Present Perfect Continuous Tense
- Past Tenses
- Past Simple Tense
- Past Continuous (Progressive) Tense
- Past Perfect Tense
- Future Tenses
- The Simple Future Tense
- Future Continuous Tense
- Future Perfect Tense
- Future Perfect Continous Tense
- Stative and dynamic verbs
- Transitive and intransitive verbs
- Reflexive verbs
- Full verbs and auxiliary verbs
- Modal verbs
- Indirect speech