Quick English: Indefinite Articles (a/an)
English indefinite articles are a very small, but very important, part of the language. They can be difficult for new speakers to use, especially if you come from Eastern Europe or Russia to one of our English schools in England - as these languages usually don't use articles.
What Are English Indefinite Articles?
In English, indefinite articles are the words "a" and "an". They help us to say that an object is not one specific example of that object ("give me the book") but rather any example of the object ("give me a book").
There are only two indefinite articles in English: "a", and "an". It is very important to use these so that people know you are talking about a thing, not a verb (for example, "We are going to a party" means something different from "We are going to party", where "party" is used as a verb).
All nouns get an article in front of them (apart from a few exceptions). Which article you use depends on what type of noun it is, and how it is spelled.
When to Use "an" Instead of "a"
There are two simple rules for when you must use "an" instead of just "a" before a noun.
- When the noun (or adjective before the noun) begins with a vowel
- When the noun (or adjective before the noun) begins with a silent "h", such as "hour" or "honest man".
- "Could you pour me a glass of wine?" ("pour me glass of wine" would be incorrect)
- "I work in an office." ("I work in a office" would be incorrect, because "office" starts with a vowel)
- "He is an honest man" (The noun doesn't start with a vowel, but the adjective before the noun starts with a silent “h”, which is why we use "an".)
Other Types of Articles
There are a few other types of articles in English that you will need to know. We'll cover these in more detail in later posts, but for now:
- The Definite Article ("The") - This is used when a specific object is meant. For example, "Please pass me the book".
- The Partitive Article ("Some") - To show a part or piece of something. For example, "Please pour me some wine".
- Negative Articles ("No"/"None") - To show that you mean a lack of of the object. For example, "No dogs are allowed in here".
Does your native language use articles or not? If your native language doesn't use articles, what tricks have you learned that help you to remember them in English?