What on Earth is an Article? It's actually quite easy to remember because there are only three of them: “a,” “an,” and “the.” Many students I see at the writing center have problems understanding which article to use for a particular point.
Have I mentioned this thing before?
- There is one easy question that solves most of the problems when differentiating between “a” and “the." It is, “Have I mentioned this thing before?” Let’s say you’re starting a paper about the wonders of macaroni and cheese and you are talking about cooking the noodles. At first, you would put the noodles in “a” pot since you haven’t mentioned it before. Later on, you would refer to it as “the” pot unless you are referring to a different pot. Here is an example:
“Cook the noodles in a pot until they are al dente. Then, drain the noodles from the pot and stir in the cheese sauce.”
- Another way to differentiate between “a” and “the” is whether you are talking about something specific. If you are not referring to something specific, use “a” or “an.”
“I need to grab an apple from the fridge so that I will have enough energy to run faster than a horse on caffeine.”
- If you are talking about something specific, use “the.”
“I need to grab the rope from the garage if we’re going to lift this cow up over this beam.”
- In more technical terms, “the” is called a definite article because it is pointing out a very specific thing.
"A" or "An?"
- “A” and “an” are indefinite articles because while they are pointing out an object, it could be any object from a group of objects, or just a random thing.
- “An” is like “a,” but it is only placed before words that begin in a vowel sound. So, you would say “an octopus,” “an amazingly delicious fried chicken wing,” and “an hour.” Even though “hour” does not begin with a vowel, it begins with a vowel sound.