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Definite and indefinite articles

'A' and 'an' are the indefinite articles of English; 'the' is the definite article.  David explains what that means!

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  • leaf orange style avatar for user UserKA
    In the video, David pronounced "the" as in "thee." Isn't it pronounced "thuh?"
    (2 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Ngoc Dat Pham Nguyen
    How about a only bookstore or an only bookstore ? Because only is an adjective came before the noun bookstore.
    (5 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user NoorUllah
    is "may I have some of the oranges" better than "may I have the oranges".
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Freckledfrog
    Could you explain to me why I can't use "an" for this question? Doesn't the word "use" start with vowel?

    I need to find ____ use for this leftover chicken broth.
    (4 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      You have done what I've frequently done, made a rule based on how something is written rather than how it is spoken. The article "a" goes before consonant SOUNDS and the article "an" before vowel SOUNDS. That's why we say "an honest man" and "a universal picture". The rule is not about writing, but about speaking.
      (2 votes)
  • ohnoes default style avatar for user SFJudd
    Unicorn starts with a vowel, and yet we don't say "an unicorn". Is "u" a specical exception?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      The rule is not about the "written letter", but about the "vocal sound" made when the word is pronounced.

      Unicorn, when spoken, sounds like "yunicorn". So does "universe", "Union" and "yuletide".
      Conversely, when words begin with "h", they often take the article "an", as in "An honest person" or "an honorable trial".
      (2 votes)
  • hopper cool style avatar for user Thien Thanh
    why we use "a" universal not "an" universal ?
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf yellow style avatar for user ✿ ✨💎 мααяiуα 💎✨ ✿
      When a word doesn't begin with a vowel, we put an instead of a, for example, An apple. When the letter is a consonant, we put a before it, for example, A ball.

      And I know what you're thinking, the word universal starts with a consonant! There is an exception to the rule sometimes because, for instance, the "u" in universal makes a "y" sound. If the word were, say, umbrella, then you would put "an" before it.

      I hope this answered your question!
      (6 votes)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Ngoc Dat Pham Nguyen
    How about a alpha or an alpha ? I mean Duolingo Greek course for English speakers there was a phrase "α άλφα" translated to a alpha instead of an alpha ? That's confusing.
    (3 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Tim Adams
      "α άλφα"

      The α is simply the Greek letter alpha. It is not an indefinite article. DuoLingo was simply showing you the greek letter α along with its name (άλφα).

      In fact, while there are quite a few indefinite articles in Greek as they are gendered, α is not one of them.

      Edit: in modern Greek, the letters have neuter gender, which means the indefinite article for alpha would be ένα. So if you wanted to refer to any letter άλφα, you would write "ένα άλφα", not "α άλφα".
      (1 vote)
  • hopper cool style avatar for user TheMello
    how can we tell the difference between a and an?
    (2 votes)
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    • starky seed style avatar for user Dishita
      hello,
      an is used before words starting with a vowel sound ( a,e,i,o,u)
      example - She is an intelligent girl ( vowel - i)
      and a before any other word starting with a consonant sound.
      She is a scary beast.

      IMPORTANT NOTE
      Sound matters as a can also be used before words starting with a vowel but sounds like a consonant.
      she is a unicorn not she is an unicorn
      the u in unicorn sounds like yu while the u in umbrella sounds like a vowel
      as well as
      It is an historic place ( h is silent , i is pronounced)
      It might be confusing at first but you'll get used to it
      Onward !
      (3 votes)
  • blobby blue style avatar for user farrahwilliams2027
    Who made Grammar tho, and why it exists.
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Dear Farrah,
      All complex systems have their grammars. Language is only one such system. (consider that a refrigerator has its own grammar, so does a smart phone). Machines are constructed intentionally according to a grammar. Languages developed organically, and eventually the ways they operate best were described and "codified". That list of "how it works" statements is what we know as grammar, and every language has it.
      Using any language according to its own grammar leads to clear communication. If you don't care to have what you try to communicate in speech and writing clearly understood, then ignore grammar. But if you wish what you say or write to convey the exact meaning you want people to get, grammar can be very helpful.
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user singhpk2
    Why did you say " a union", like I know makes sense but why not an union because isn't u a vowel?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      1) language is spoken before it is written.
      2) the rule about "a" and "an" is about sound, not spelling.
      3) the word "union" (like the words united, and universal) begin with the sound of a "y", as in "youth".
      4) beginning with that sound, they naturally sound better with "a" than with "an".
      (2 votes)

Video transcript

laz- [Voiceover] So we've covered the basic idea that divides the usage of "the" from "a" and "an". "The" is the definite article, and "a" or "an" is the indefinite. So when you're being non-specific in language, you would use the indefinite article as in, "May I have an orange?" Cause it doesn't matter which orange you're asking for, you don't care, it's any orange, as opposed to if you wanted the orange. This usage is much more specific, and it seems to indicate that there is only one orange. You see the orange in particular that you want, you're identifying it, you're asking for it. That's what this definite usage is. Something that's interesting about the word "the" is that it can be used for both singular and plural nouns. So it's both singular and plural. So you could say "May I have the orange?" You could also say "May I have the oranges?" And "a" and "an" does not really allow this, it is only singular. So you can't say "May I have an oranges?" This is not standard. What you'd probably say instead is "May I have some oranges?" So this is not standard, does not work in standard American English. The other thing about "a" or "an" is that it's "a" or "an". The indefinite article changes depending on the vowel sound that comes after it. So changes for vowel sounds. Now what does that mean? Well it means that if you know that word that you're going to say next like ah or ooh or eh or uh or ee, then you're gonna change it to "an". So it's the difference between saying "A box," and "An apple." What we don't say in standard American English is "a apple." It's not as easy on the mouth, frankly, it takes a little bit more effort. And any linguist will tell you that the way languages develop is that they reward laziness. So we say "a box" but we say "an apple." Something a little weird though, you want to make sure that you're looking for vowel sounds not just for vowels. Because some vowels, for example, the letter U don't always produce "ooh" sounds. Sometimes if they're at the beginning of a word, like in word union, so if you say "a union," that produces a "yuh" sound, and "yuh" is technically a consonant sound. That's not a vowel. But there are certainly cases like "An underwater boat," where the letter U does produce an "ooh" or an "uh" sound, and that's a vowel. So if you're gonna start the word with a vowel sound, what you wanna do is choose "an" instead of "a" but just be careful of the letter U for example. So to recap, "the" is the definite article. You can use it for both singular and plural usage. "May I have the orange?" "May I have the oranges?" "A" or "an" is indefinite and it's only singular, so you can say "May I have an orange?" or "May I have some oranges?" Before a vowel sound, "a" changes to "an" so you say "a box," but "an apple". Not "a apple." You say "a union," but "an underwater boat." You can learn anything. David out.