This post ‘Articles in English: types and examples’ examines another linguistic member of the Closed class family of the English Parts of Speech or Word Classes. It offers the definition of an article, the types with examples, the forms in which it exists and uses of articles among others.
What is an article?
Articles are subcategory of the Determiners; they are the most common English determiners. They usually begin a noun phrase and normally followed by a noun, with or without modifiers.
Types of Articles
There are basically two types in English: the Definite and the Indefinite. The definite article is the while the indefinite article is a. ‘an’ is a variant of article ‘a‘.
Forms of the Articles
The spelling of the indefinite article and the pronunciation of both the definite and indefinite articles depend on the initial sound of the words they come before. Ordinarily, articles are not stressed but for special emphasis, they may be stressed. The unstressed definite article ‘the’ is pronounced /ð∂/ before consonant sounds and /ðι/ before vowels sounds.
Examples of Articles
/ð∂/ (the) girl, box, car, plate, fork, snake, pot, money, dog, jug, kettle, etc.
/ðι/ (the) egg, enemy, eagle, animal, umbrella, owner, okra, ink, apple, etc.
We should take note that it is not the SPELLING of a word that determines which article it takes, but the PRONUNCIATION. See the following words: a European, a UN spokesperson, an X-ray, an FBI agent, an X-men movie, etc.
We should also note that words that have silent ‘h’ takes the article ‘an’ before them as in an hour, an heir, etc. though there are few exceptions to this where either the article ‘a’ or ‘an’ can be used before words beginning with ‘h’ as in a(n) hotel, a(n) historical novel, etc.
This is used to describe an article that is omitted before a common noun. It is a normal way of expressing indefinite meaning before a non-count noun e. g. water, oil, sand, salt, etc. or before a plural count noun e. g. trees, leaves, chalks, stones, pots, etc. It contrasts with the definite article ‘the’ which is normally used for definite meaning in front of any common noun, and the indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’ commonly used for indefinite meaning in front of a singular count noun. More examples of zero article (which generally marks indefiniteness) include:
- I like music.
- She wants babies.
- They saw cars lined up.
- He likes pictures.
Uses of Articles
Here, we discuss the general grammatical rules guiding the use of articles and they are as follow:
- The definite article can be used with all noun types except most proper nouns. It can be used before singular and plural count nouns as in the child/children, the ball/balls, the baby/babies, the river/rivers, the exam/exams, It is also used with singular mass nouns e. g. the gold, the milk, the, knowledge, the water, the attitude, the wisdom, etc.
- On the other hand, the indefinite article can only be used with singular count nouns while for other nouns, the zero article (or unstressed ‘some’) is used for indefinite meaning. See these examples:
Singular count: the ball, the man, the ruler, the girl, etc. (definite meaning), a ball, a man, a ruler, a girl, etc. (indefinite meaning)
Plural count: the balls, the men, the ruler, the girls, etc. (definite meaning), (some) balls, (some) men, (some) rulers, (some) girls etc. (indefinite meaning).
Mass/Non-Count: the gold, the water, the oil, etc. (definite meaning), (some) gold, (some) water, (some) oil, etc. (indefinite meaning).
- Please note that some common nouns, mostly in idiomatic expressions, can be used without articles. See these sentences:
- She was in bed.
- He was in church.
- The man went to prison.
- Jane went to hospital.
- We were at school when she called.
- The vessel was at sea.
- She plans to go to university someday.
- He was in town.
We can also write these sentences above to accommodate the definite article. See the following:
- She was lying down on the bed.
- He walked towards the church.
- The man drove past the prison.
- Jane looked for the hospital
- We went inside the school.
- The naval officer looked out to the sea.
- She plans to visit the university.
- He is approaching the town.
Other Uses of Articles
- As a determiner, articles normally begin a noun phrase and are normally followed by a noun, with or without modifiers. Consider these examples:
- Let us take a picture.
- The single picture hangs on the wall.
- The award-winning actress dresses beautifully.
- He is a brilliant student.
- Funmi is a seasoned orator.
- The indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’ is used to introduce a noun phrase referring to something or somebody who has not been mentioned or whose identity is not (yet) known to the hearer or reader. See these sentences:
- She has just bought a land.
- Do you have a pen?
- Her father is an old friend of mine.
- The indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’ is also used after the ‘be’ verb to describe or classify people or objects. Examples:
- My uncle is a chemist.
- An eagle is an ancient bird.
- Her mother is a skillful violinist.
- Rose is an exotic flower.
- Historically, the word ‘one’ has as its reduced form of the indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’. Often, we use this reduced form instead of ‘one’ in expressions like: a hundred, an hour and a half, a year, a week, an apple,etc.