« Previous | Main | Next »

The first day of spring

Post categories:

Nuala Nuala | 16:44 UK time, Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Hi Lyn,
Thanks for your most recent blog. It's nice to be able to get a clearer idea of your job and how you spend your time. From the comments that people have left so far, it seems almost everyone wants to know more about your religion, and the festivals and holidays you celebrate in Thailand. I hope you'll tell us all about that as well as lots more about your day-to-day life in Pattaya. Although I have to admit it's the amazing food that I want to hear about most! I lived in Bangkok for three years and became quite addicted to the sweet and sour soups and the hot chillies in almost everything, so I'd love to hear about the dishes you cook and your favourite food stalls and restaurants!


Here, spring has finally arrived and we've had the first few warm days of the new season. Everyone seems much more cheerful. All of us in the BBC Learning English office had a bit more of a spring in our step when we come into the office this morning.

I bike to work most days and today was the first day I didn't need my gloves or jacket. The trip along the canal towpath was a real delight in the spring-time sunshine. Fingers crossed the good weather is here to stay! But since this is Britain it could be rainy and cold tomorrow - or even later today, knowing my luck!

Today I thought we'd look at articles (that's 'the', 'a' and 'an'). Actually, I hope this topic will be of interest to some of our audience too (Negee in particular asked about some advice on using articles).

There are a lot of rules about using these three little words (no, not 'I love you' but 'the', 'a' and 'an'). Today we'll look at five of the rules:

Rule 1
When we introduce a new topic or talk about something for the first time in a conversation or a piece of writing, we tend to use 'a' or 'an'. For example:

a. I'm going to look at a house later today.

b. She's got a car and a bike.

c. Joe needs a pen. Can he borrow yours?

Rule 2
When we refer to something that's been mentioned before, we tend to use 'the'. If the conversations from (a - c) above were continued, they might go like this:

d. I really liked the house and I'm thinking about renting it.

e. The car is red and the bike is green.

f. Did you get the pen for me? Thanks. Glad you got the black one and not the red one. I don't like writing in red.

Here are some sentence from your blog where you use the indefinite article ('a' or 'an') correctly. In all of these examples you're referring to something for the first time.

'Khun' is a polite and common word. (You hadn't mentioned this term before).

Somebody wants to sell and waits for a buyer. (This is the first time that a buyer has been mentioned).

I'm just waiting for Khun Nuala buy me a lovely small apartment. (This is the first time an apartment has been mentioned)

And here are some sentences where you used the definite article 'the' correctly. In all these examples, we both know what you're talking about because it's been mentioned before (either in your blog or in a previous one).

Thank you for the useful homework. (I'd talked about giving you homework before so we both knew which homework you were referring to).

If you want to lease your house, just list it with the agency. (You'd mentioned your agency before so we know which agency you're talking about).

The global recession makes people afraid. (I'd already asked you about the recession - and there's only one of them going on just now - so we both know which recession you're talking about).

Rule 3
If there's only one of something, we use 'the', rather than 'a' or 'an'. So for example, we talk about:

the White House

the moon

the Alps

Rule 4
We don't use any article when we're talking about things or people in general. So for example, when we're referring to all things, we don't say:

The mice like the cats.

She loves the poetry.

The rice is very expensive at this time of year.

Instead we say:

Mice like cats.

She loves poetry.

Rice is very expensive at this time of year.

Rule 5
We use 'a' or 'an' to talk about jobs (not 'the' or no article), so we don't say:

She teacher.

What do I do? I'm the sales assistant in Harrods department store. (There are lots of sales assistants in Harrods).

Instead, we say:

She's a teacher.

What do I do? I'm a sales assistant.

Incidentally, we also use the expression I'm a / I'm an to talk about our jobs, rather than saying My job's a. So I'd say I'm a writer, not My job's a writer.

So here's today's homework task. Here are a few sentences from your blog. Your task is to decide if they're right or wrong. If they're right, you just have to write 'correct' next to them. If they're wrong, you have to re-write them correctly, and that might include putting in as well as taking out articles. I hope you don't mind that I've edited your sentences a bit but I just want you to concentrate on the articles here, nothing else.

I've given you a clue in brackets at the end of each sentence to tell you what rule or rules you should be thinking about and I'll give you one more clue before you start - two of these sentences are correct:

1. We use 'Khun' as the polite title. (rule 1 and rule 2)

2. I work as the agent between the buyer and seller. (rule 5 and rule 2)

3 I just want to save the energy and save the world. (rule 4 and rule 3)

4. My office is the central place for people who want to do any property business. (rule 2)

5 The global recession makes people afraid to do the business. (rule 3 and rule 4)

6. I'm the property consultant. (rule 5)

7. I love flowers. (rule 4).

That's all for now.

All the best,


addicted - if you are addicted to something, you can't live without it. We often talk about people being addicted to drugs, for example.
a spring in our step - set expression - used to talk about feeling cheerful
the canal towpath - the pavement for walking or bike riding bikes at the side of canal


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Nuala! I have also a spring in my step, but it´s because of the Autumn. Thank God now the air is fresher and the torrential downpours have stopped here. Anyway, as the weather nowadays is pretty changeable, it might get hotter again till the end of this week. Well, I hope not! Fingers crossed :-)!
    Best wishes,
    Ana Paula.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hello Nuala,
    Riding your bike without even your jacket on! Either it must be very warm in London already or you are one of those admirable (very often British) people who don't seem to feel the cold as much as some people from further south do... By the way, I hadn't seen the word "bike" used as a verb very often before, so I've learned something new there.
    As for the articles - having been made sensitive of the subject - what about using an article with "canal" in the explanation of "the canal towpath" (and dropping the surplus bike while we're at it)?
    Hoping spring will come eventually here too,

  • Comment number 3.

    Thank you for your blog indeed, it benefits me to understand how to use articles correctly that I have confused since beginning to learn English as a second language. In my thoughts, however, it takes time and effort to master the article usage. Hopefully reading more pieces of your advice of other points of English grammar.




BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.