Rules pertaining to usage of Articles

In English there are two types of articles:
(i)   The Indefinite Articles
(ii)  The Definite Article

The Indefinite Articles : A and An (Please note that ‘An’ is a variant of ‘A’.)
'A' and 'An' are to be used with Nouns that are singular.  Singular Nouns are, To simply put, we can put one, two, ... in front of them.
The Definite Article     : The

1. The indefinite article ‘a’ is used before: 
(a) a word beginning with a letter having a consonant sound. 
  Examples:  a book, a man, a dinner.
(b) a word that begins with a letter (like O) with the sound like ‘wa’ 
 Examples: a one-rupee note, one-eyed man etc.
(c) a word beginning with ‘u’ or ‘eu’ giving the consonant of ‘yu’.
Examples: a university, a European.

2. The indefinite article ‘an’ is used before:
(a) a word beginning with a letter like a, e, i, o, u having a vowel sound.
Examples:  an apple, an egg,  an umbrella, an idiot, etc.
(b) a word beginning with ‘h’ but the pronunciation starts with a vowel.
Examples: an hair, an hour, an honest man, etc.
(c) an abbreviation, the first letter of which is ‘M’ 
 Examples: an M.L.A., an M.P., an M.Com an S.D.O and F.R.C.S., an X-mas gift etc.


We use a or an:
Rule 1:  If noun is singular countable, article must be used. 
John is teacher  
John is a teacher  

Man came to my house yesterday  
A man came to my house yesterday  

Rule 2:  a or an must be used for noun complement which includes professions. 
He was great man.  
He was a great man  

He is actor  
He is an actor  

Rule 2: If we want to say something about speed or price.
Eg: I bought these onions Five rupees kilo.  
I bought these onions Five rupees a kilo  

The speed of the train is fifty miles hour  
The speed of the train is fifty miles an hour  

Rule 4:  In exclamatory sentence before singular and countable nouns
Eg: What a fine sketch!  
What a great shot!  

Rule 5:  Before the word ‘most’ when it is used in the sense of very or much or exceedingly.
Sreedhar is most intelligent student.  
Sreedhar is a most intelligent student  

This is most unfortunate event.  
This is a most unfortunate event.  

Rule 6:  Before a singular countable noun which is used as an example to represent a class.
Cow is useful animal  
A cow is useful animal  
Note : It must be borne in mind that ‘man’ or ‘woman’, when used in a general sense to represent ‘mankind’ as a whole, never takes are article.

A man is mortal  
Man is mortal  

A woman is man's better half  
Woman is man’s better half  

Rule 11:  With the words a lot of, a couple, a great many, a good deal of, a good many, a great deal of, a few, a little etc. when they mean 'Some amount' and 'a small number'
Few books were in the library  
A few books were in the library  

Lot of people have attended the party  
A lot of people have attended the party  

Rule 5:  In certain phrases: a cold, a pain, on an average, make a noise, make an effort, make a mistake, a fever. etc.
I've got cold  
I've got a cold  

Rule 6:  With certain numbers : a hundred, a thousand, a million etc.

Rule 7:  ‘A’ can be used before Mr. / Miss / Mrs. + name
a Mr. Bose, a Mrs, Bose etc.
Note : A Mr. Bose denotes a person who is called Bose, and implies that he is a stranger to the speaker.
Mr. Bose, without ‘a’. implies that the speaker knows Mr. Bose, or knows of his existence.

Rule 8:  Before a proper noun to make it a common noun.
Mohan is a Newton of our class  
Mohan is a Newton of our class  

Rule 9:  Before certain uncountable nouns preceded by nouns + of
a piece of advice, a bit of news, a drop of water etc.

Rule 10:
After the words many, rather, such, quite etc in certain structures.
1. Many a friend of mine is attending the party.
2. Such a show cannot be arranged now.
3. He is rather a fool to take such decisions.

A or An is not used before: 

(a) Plural nouns: a books, a universities etc. 
(b) Uncountable nouns: an advices, an information etc. 
(c) Names of meals:
Let us have a dinner 
Let us have dinner  
Note: An indefinite article can be used before names of meals when these are preceded by an adjective.
She gave me a good breakfast at 8 p.m.  

THE is used in the following ways:

Rule 1:
  • Before the names of the historical  or public buildings:  the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, the Rashtrapathi Bhavan, etc
  • Before the names of rivers:  the Krishna, the Ganga, the Yamuna etc.
  • Before the names of seas:  the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea etc.
  • Before the Oceans:  the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, etc.
  • Before the names of certain chains of Mountains:  the Himalayas, the Alps, etc.
  • Before the names of deserts:  the Sahara, the Thar, etc.
  • Before the names of newspapers, magazines etc:  the Hindustan Times, the Stateman, the Deccan Chronicle, etc.
  • Before groups of islands:  the Andamans, the West Indies, etc.
  • Before the names of certain countries (This is an exception):  the Yemen, the Sudan, the Hague, etc.


Rule 12:  Before a noun denoting a hospital, temple, school, college, prison etc. If its purpose or use is not referred to or say if used not in its primary purpose.
Examples:  He has gone to the hospital to visit a friend, Where he is employed.
(Here he went to hospital to meet his friend not because of illness)

Rule 13:  Before an adjective in the superlative degree.
Michael is the tallest boy in the class.  
Michael is the tallest boy in the class  

Rule 14:  Before an adjective in the comparative degree, when the selection of one out of only two persons.
Nalini is more beautiful of the two girls in the class.  
Nalini is the more beautiful of the two girls in the class.  

Rule 15:  With nouns indicating what is unique. (there is no second one)
Examples:  the sun, the moon, the sky, the earth, the equator etc.

Rule 16:  Before an abstract noun or a material if it is used with an adjunct (a qualifying clause) (or when there is a particular  reference to the material noun)
Examples:   The gold you have brought from the U.S.A. is good quality.
Ornaments are made of The gold

Rule 17:  The is used before certain adjectives to give a plural meaning.  The rich, The poor, The dead, The sick, The healthy, The deaf, The blind etc.
The rich = rich people
The poor = poor people

Rich hate poor
The rich hate the poor

Wise think before they speak
The wise think before they speak

Rule 18: With certain adjectives indicating nationality.  The spanish means spanish people
Examples:  the English, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Chinese, the Burmese etc.

Rule 19:  Before ‘only’ and ordinal numbers, such first, second, millionth etc. and adjectives of number.
All the students of  first year are invited.  
All the students of the first year are invited  

Second example is not correct  
The second example is not correct.  

He is only one in the class who got selected for Google.  
He is the only one in the class who got selected for Google.  

Today is sixth day of the month  
Today is the sixth day of the month  

Rule 20:  Before a noun when special emphasis is needed.
This is the novel I am talking about.  (not any novel, but a particular novel)

Rule 21:  Before a common noun to give it the meaning of an abstract noun
Examples:   At last the father in him prevailed and excused him.

Rule 22:  In special comparatives
1. The more you earn, the more you spend
2. The more, the better
3. The higher you go, the cooler you feel.

Rule 23:  Before musical instruments.
Rajani can play piano very well  
Rajani can play the piano very well.  

Rule 24:  Before the proper names of certain well-known or scared books.
Examples:   the Mahabharat, the Ramayana, the Gita, the Bible, the Quran

Rule 25:  Before the names of certain countries each of which is a union of smaller units.
Examples:   the U.S.A., the U.A.E., and U.S.S.R etc.

Rule 26:  Before north, south etc when these are used as nouns.
Examples:   the north of India, the Middle East, the West Asia.

Rule 27:  Before some proper nouns consisting of adjectives and noun or noun + of + noun
Examples:   the State Bank of India, the National Museum

Rule 28:  The + singular noun + clause or phrase can be used to distinguish one person from another of the same name.
Q. We have two Reddy’s, which Reddy you want?
A. I want the Reddy who signed the letter.

Rule 29:  Before the names of political parties.
Example:  the BJP, the Congress

Rule 30:  When it is clear from the context that a particular person, place or thing is meant.
1. I talked to the Principal yesterday.  (Both speaker and listener knew who is principal)
2. The students are playing in the garden.

Rule 31:  Before the dates of months.
the 23 October, 1949, the 15th August, 1947, etc.,

Rule 32: "The" is used before the parts of the body which are used in place of possessive Adjectives
Don't strike her on head  
Don't strike her on the head  

She caught me by hand  
She caught me by the hand  

He pulled him by leg  
He pulled him by the leg.  

Difficult Cases:
Rule 1: Nurses or The nurses; Railways or the railways?
When we genaralise about members of a group, we use no article. If we talk about the group "as a whole" as if it is a well known unit, we use "the".
Nurses mostly work very hard
The nurses have never gone on strike

Stars vary greatly in size
The starts are really bright tonight.

Farmers often get less price for their produce
What has this government done for the farmers?

It's difficult for railways to make a profit  (Any railways)
The railways are getting more and more unrealiable (our well known railways)

Rule 2: When we are talking about physical environment and climate, we use "the".  The suggests everybody is familiar what we are talking about.
My wife likes the seaside, but I prefer the mountainside
I love listening to the wind.

Rule 3:  We use "the"  when we talk about some kinds of things that are part of everybody's lives.  Here "the bus" does not mean 'one bus that you know about'. We use "the" to suggest that taking a  bus is a common experience that we all share.
I got some great idea when I am on the bus
Do you sing in the bath?
I've stopped reading the newspaper because its too depressing

THE is omitted in the following ways:

We use no article with:
  • Continents: Asia, Europe, Africa, South America
  • Counties: Hertfordshire, Kent, Oxfordshire, Devon
  • States: Texas, Alabama, California
  • Towns: Hertford, St Albans, Watford  Except: e.g. The Hague
  • Streets: London Road
  • Mountains : Everest, Etna, Helvelyn
  • Lakes: Lake Windermere, Lake Superior
  • Countries: Thailand, China  Except: e.g. The People's Republic of China, the United Kingdom, The United States of America, The Netherlands
  • Shops and banks: ICICI bank, Lloyds Bank, Harrods, Macdonalds  Except: The state bank of India.
  • Principal buildings of a town: Oxford University, Salisbury Cathedral, Luton Airport.

to/ at / in / from school / university /college
to/ at / in/ into / from church 
to/ in / into/ out of bed / prison
to / in / into / out of hospital (British english)
to / at / from work
to / at sea
to / in / from town
at / from home 
leave home
leave / start / enter school / university / college
by day, at night
by car / bus / bicycle / plane / train / tube / boat 
on foot
by radio / phone / letter / mail 

Rule 1:  The is omitted before a common noun used in the widest sense.
1. The Woman is kindhearted generally.
2. The Man is not immortal.

Rule 2: Before material nouns.
Examples:  The Gold is a precious metal.

Note : The may be used with a material noun if it is used with an  adjunct which makes it definite.
Examples:  The gold we use in India is all imported.

Rule 3:  Usually before proper nouns
The Hyderabad is the capital of Andhra Pradesh.

Rule 4:  Before abstract nouns used in a general sense.
1. The Honesty is the best policy
2. The Sincerity pays dividends
Note :  If an abstract noun is qualified by an adjective or an adjectival phrase or clause may have the article ‘the’ before it.
The wisdom of Moses is bibilically significant.

Rule 5:  Before the words -  father, mother, aunt, uncle etc. in general sense. But if these words are used with reference to the society, nation, religion etc. use of ‘the’ is compulsory.
Compare the following:
Father is very angry today
Gandhiji, the father of the nation, lead a simple and truthful life.

Rule 6:  Before predicative nouns denoting a position that is normally held at one time by one person only.
1. Mr. Kiran was elected the chairman of the committee.
2. He became the principal of our college in 1996.

Rule 7:
Before plural nouns which are used to denote a class.
1. The Historians study old monuments for research purposes.
2. The Camels are useful animals to the Libyans.
Thumb Rule: When we refer to a group or a category in general No definite article is used.

Rule 8:
Before plural nouns used in general sense.
The Members are requested to pay their subscriptions in time.
The Members of the committee are divided in their opinion (Here we are talking about a specific group of members)

Rule 9:  Before the names of meals
1. I had lunch at 2.30 p.m.
2. Let’s have dinner at 9.00 p.m.

Note : ‘The’ can be used when meals are preceded by an adjective or a clause or phrase particularising them.
The dinner given by our colony association yesterday was not properly arranged. What is about the the wedding dinner tonight?

Rule 10:
Before common nouns used in pairs.
1. He worked day and night to prepare for the C.S. exam.
2. Both husband and wife are supposed to take part in this competition.

Rule 11: No article is used before the nouns which are after preposition
to catch fire, to send word, to give ear, to lose heart, to leave home, to take offence, at home, in hand, in debt, by day , at sunrise, at noon, on demand, by land, by air,  at night, on foot, at ease

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