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Introduction to articles

Articles—words like the, a, and an—are special adjectives we use to indicate whether a noun is specific or not specific.

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  • purple pi purple style avatar for user kayden
    What's a Grammarian?
    (5 votes)
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  • male robot donald style avatar for user Dougal spwanogal
    Technically wouldn't are be a article
    (3 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Harriet Buchanan
    Here's a question for David, our resident grammar expert. I often see written, "an historical", rather than "a historical". A historical would make more sense due to the sounded "h" in historical, and I've read that folks using "an" before historical are mistakenly trying to sound more literate, but that using "an" is actually incorrect.

    Which way is correct? Or is "an historical" something that's just become a correct part of our language simply because so many folks use it?
    (2 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user David Rheinstrom
      Ha! This is a fight I rehash from time to time with my colleagues on Team history; as a descriptivist, I'm inclined to say a historian or a historical event, since it reflects English as it is spoken. My colleague Steve, however, says an historical event or an historian; this is the pronunciation I usually expect from American Newscaster English.

      However, I think it's needlessly stuffy, and it maintains a pronunciation that isn't reflected in American English, per David Alexander's comment above—since I pronounce the h, I say a historical.
      (3 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Nusy
    When are we supposed to pronounce The (Thuh) and The (Thee) in a this type of sentence?
    The King of the ocean kingdom,
    Or does it even matter?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user evie
      "The" is usually pronounced as "thee" before a word with a vowel sound. "The" pronounced as "thuh" is pronounced that way before a word beginning with a consonant letter. Note: this isn't an official rule or anything. It's just common for word flow and sentence syntax.
      (4 votes)
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Gabriel Ulaye
    Is it right that a is referring to the noun like for example: a box. And the an is referring to nouns that start with vowels like this: an ant?
    (0 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Ketchup!
      Yes it is correct. However, we use a in front of a consonant starting single noun. And an in front of a noun whose first letter sounds like a vowel. For example, we say a university, not an university. The reason is because here u sounds more like “you” not what is sounds like in umbrella. The example you gave is correct
      (5 votes)
  • hopper cool style avatar for user Ruhaan Bansal
    So are articles are groups of people or single?
    (2 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hecretary Bird
      You can use articles to describe both. Singular nouns are described with singular articles like "the", "a", and "an". With plural nouns, you can make the choice whether or not to include an article or not. A/An are only used for singular nouns, so we have to use other indefinite articles such as "some". Both sentences below are grammatically (if not logically) correct:
      Elephants have eaten people since the 12th century.
      The Elephants have eaten people since the 12th century.

      The sentences do have two different meaning, however. Not using an article means that every instance of noun does whatever the verb says, while using an article only says that some of the nouns do the verb. In the second example, the speaker only talks about a specific population of elephants, not elephants in general.
      Hope this helps!
      (1 vote)
  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Andrew J
    Why are articles classified as adjectives? Why wouldn't they be pronouns?
    (1 vote)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hecretary Bird
      Well, pronouns replace nouns. Articles modify them. For an article to be a pronoun, the sentences:
      Usnavi walked up to the traffic light. The promptly fell on him.
      Would have to make sense. As you can see, the second sentence is missing a critical aspect: the noun. Simply giving an article won't make it clear what happened, although you can infer that it was the traffic light that fell on Usnavi, not a paratrooper. Hope this helps!
      (3 votes)
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Muhammad Saad
    Will 'an' come before 'European' or not?
    Will 'The' come before 'Paris' or not?

    Sentence: The Paris is an European city.
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      The rule about "a" or "an" (which to choose) is based on whether the initial sound of the following word is a vowel or consonant sound (not on whether the initial letter of the word is a vowel or consonant).

      Though in certain languages, certain cities require the use of a definite article ("La Habana, Cuba" in Spanish, for example), this is never the case in English. Your example sentence best reads as: "Paris is a European city." Buenos Aires is an Argentine city. Baghdad is an Iraqi city. Bari is an Italian city.
      (3 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Pink Butterfly
    if they are adjectives why does the sentence sound wrong when i take it out?
    The cat sat.
    cat sat.
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user vh11100
    so if specific is like it is under that red desk but if it is not specific it will be under the desk?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Grammarians, I would like to tell you a tale of two elephants. In order to get at the idea of this thing called the article. We'll explain what that is after I tell you about the elephant and an elephant. Now articles are words like "a" or "an" or "the". Articles are a kind of adjective, some people would call them a determiner, that help you figure out how important something is. Or how specific something is. So, articles. What articles do is they tell you whether or not something is specific. Are you thinking about any old elephant when you talk about an elephant, or are you thinking about one elephant in particular? The elephant. And this is the difference. When we're talking about the elephant we're talking about a specific elephant. We have particular one in mind. This what's called the definite. Because it defines what we're talking about. You know, this elephant could be the queen of the elephants. Sometimes, when we make sentences we want to aim for that kind of precision. We want to be precise. We want to know exactly what we're talking and who we're talking about and why. That's a case where you would use the word "the". Now if you're not being specific. If you're talking about any old elephant. An elephant that you're not especially familiar with. An elephant you haven't introduced before. You would say "an" elephant, because it's not specific... and it's undefined. So, grammarians call that an indefinite article. When you know who and what you are talking about for sure you say "the". And when you're not sure, you say "a" or "an". So if you knew you were talking about a specific elephant. Say for example the queen of the elephants. The queen. As indicated by her royal crown, you would say "the". And if you were talking about any old elephant? You'd say "an". You'd use the indefinite article. We'll cover this more later. I just wanted to give you an introduction to the idea of what an article is. So "the" for specific, "a" or "an" for nonspecific. You can learn anything, David out.