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Indefinite article in English


There are two types of articles in English - definite and indefinite. Today I’m going to talk about the indefinite article and why there are two of them, “a” and “an”. We use them in front of singular countable noun and, they mean “one”.

An apple = one apple

A car = one car

I’ve got a cat = I’ve got one cat

Remember if the countable noun is in the plural form we don't use "a" or "an". Also, we do not use this article before uncountable nouns. See some examples below:

Wrong: I've got a cats.

Right: I've got two cats.

Wrong: There are a trees in my backyard.

Right: There are some trees in my backyard.

Wrong: I need an information.

Right: I need some information.

obs. a countable noun can be counted; can be preceded by "a" or "an" in the singular; it has a plural form.

Origin

From the Old English, “an” literally means “one” or “lone” and it is used before nouns or adjectives that start with a vowel sound. “A” is a weakened form of “an” used before words that start with a consonant sound. The “n” mostly disappeared before consonants by the mid of the 14th century.

Basic rules

1. We use “a” in front of words that begin with a consonant sound and “an” in front of words that start with a vowel sound. Pay attention to this small detail - it’s the sound that matters not the spelling. I’m going to explain more when I talk about indefinite articles and connected speech.

2. As mentioned before, “a” and “an” are used in front of singular countable nouns:

I have a book in my bag.

We bought a house last year.

I live in an apartment

3. If a singular noun is modified by an adjective:

I have a very old car.

I know a nice little café in Mission Bay.

4. When you first introduce a noun:

Today, I found a kitten on the streets on my way home. The kitten was by itself and I couldn’t find its mother, so I decided to take it home.

I saw a house yesterday. The house had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room and a garden. The kitchen was a bit small for my liking but the living room was a good size. The garden was nice and big, which is a bonus.

5. It is used to show that somebody/something is a member of a group or profession:

I’m a teacher.

She’s an actress.

Their new car is a Honda.

Indefinite articles and connected speech

When a word ends in a consonant sound and, the following word starts in a vowel sound, we move the consonant to the beginning of the next word. Remember, it's the sound that matters not the spelling. The indefinite article “an” does exactly that because the following words always start with a vowel sound. For the same reason, we use “an” before words that start with a silent “h”. On the other hand, we use “a” in front of words that start with “u” if it is pronounced like “y”. See some examples below:

Remember to check the pronunciation of words that start with “h” and “u” so you can choose the correct indefinite article:

In summary, always think about the sound when choosing the indefinite article and you won’t make any mistakes.

For more on this grammar topic, watch this video below:

Did you find learning about indefinite article useful? Let us know in the comments. Also if you enjoyed this post, please help to spread it by emailing it to a friend or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter. And since you’re still here, don’t forget to subscribe to my website to receive updates and great tips such as this one here.

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