Articles – Definite, Indefinite, Partitive


Definite Articles

General principles

The definite article ‘the’ (invariable in form) designates a person, place, or event which has been specified or defined by the speaker:

  • Here’s the book I bought.
  • The cat is on the roof.
  • He said he would bring the money.
Omission of the definite article

The definite article does not always precede nouns: sometimes indefinite articles or partitive articles will be used. However, sometimes no article at all is necessary, for example in the following cases:
1. As a general rule, the definite article is omitted before abstract nouns or nouns representing general categories. It is often omitted after verbs expressing opinions or preferences:

  • Poverty is the world’s biggest problem today.
  • I don’t like animals.
  • Cats are nicer than dogs.
  • Time flies.
  • She likes coffee, but she hates tea.

2.Generally, the article is omitted before days of the week and dates:

  • On Tuesdays the museums are closed.
  • On Saturdays I always have a lay-in.
  • Friday night we are going dancing.
  • I was born on may 19th, 1960.

3. Usually, the definite article is omitted before names of countries, states, cities, and regions:

  • France is smaller than Canada.
  • Alaska is larger than Maryland.

Exceptions: Some names include the definite article, such as ‘The Hague’.

4. The definite article is usually omitted before titles or nouns indicating professions:

  • President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. (not ‘The President Kennedy’)
    But, if we do not use a name, we say ‘The President completed two terms…’
  • We saw Professor Miller at the restaurant. (Or ‘She saw the Professor…’)
  • She met with Doctor Schmidt. (Or ‘She met with the Doctor)

The use of the definite article does not change in questions or negative forms.

Indefinite articles

The indefinite article has two forms: before singular nouns we use ‘a / an’ and before plural or uncountable nouns we use ‘some’:

  • a cat
  • an accident
  • some dogs
  • some wine

We use ‘a’ or ‘an’ depending on the spelling or sound that begins the next word.

  • a + singular noun starting with a consonant: a boy; a pencil; a camera; a knife; a clock
  • an + singular noun starting with a vowel: an onion; an umbrella; an Indian woman; an apple; an egg
  • a + singular noun starting with a consonant sound: a university (it starts with the sound ‘you’), a union
  • a + nouns starting with a pronounced ‘h’: a horse, a happy man
  • an + nouns starting with silent ‘h’ : an hour
  • In some cases where ‘h’ is pronounced, such as ‘historical’, you can use an. However, ‘a’ is more commonly used and preferred.

‘A / an’ are used to speak about one non-specific noun or non-specific member of a group or collection of nouns.

  • For example, ‘I would like to go see a movie.’ (Not a specific movie – any movie will be okay)
  • ‘I’m going to buy a new car next week.’ (I haven’t decided on the exact car yet)
  • ‘Call an ambulance!’ (Any ambulance will be okay)
  • ‘He stole a book from the bookshop’ (We don’t specify which book he stole)

The indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘an’ are also used to indicate professions or membership of a group:

  • I am a doctor, Susan is a nurse. (Professions)
  • Paolo is a catholic.
  • They say that President Nixon was a Mason.

‘A/an’ can only be used with countable nouns.

  • ‘I’d like a cup of coffee, please.’
  • ‘I’m going to buy a motorbike.’

Partitive article – Some

When the article ‘some’ appears before a plural noun it functions like an indefinite article:

  • He has some tickets for the game.
  • Some students decided not to attend the class.

When ‘some’ is used before a singular noun, it is being used as a partitive article. We use a partitive article to speak about a partial (or indeterminate) quantity. It is often used after verbs of possession or consumption:

  • I’m busy now, but I have some free time this afternoon.
  • Please buy some milk when you go to the supermarket.
  • I had some bad news yesterday.
  • I need to go to my bank to get some money.

Note: After expressions of quantity, the partitive article is not used:

  • Students buy a lot of sweets.
  • Today people have more activities than before.

Negative forms

In the negative forms and questions, the plural indefinite article ‘some’ is generally replaced by ‘any’:

  • Do you have any children?
  • I don’t have any spare time.
  • She doesn’t have any money.
  • They didn’t have any milk at the supermarket.