Session 2

Most of us love to talk about our holidays and travels – and in English, that means using articles. So, when and how should we use them? In this session, Emma hears some more travellers' tales as we explore the rules of the articles a, an and the

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6 Minute Grammar: Articles

Articles and elephants

What can you learn in 6 minutes? Quite a lot if you listen to 6 Minute Grammar where Rob and Emma talk about articles and Finn talks about elephants in Cambodia.

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Rob       
Hello again. Welcome to 6 Minute Grammar with me, Rob.

Emma           
And me, Emma. Hello.

Rob                
In today's programme, we're talking about three little words: a, an and the.

Emma           
Also known as articles. So let's start by saying hello to Finn.

Finn               
Hello.

Emma           
And Finn, you're going to tell us about your time in Phnom Penh, which is the capital city of Cambodia. Listen out for the words a, an and the.

Finn               
Yes, I was living in a flat near the city centre. I was lucky because every morning I saw an elephant walk past my front door. The elephant was giving rides to tourists. The owner told me that her name was Sambo. I discovered later that she was the only elephant in Phnom Penh. Here's a photo.

Rob/Emma  
Ahhh...

Emma
And quite a few articles there. We had a flat and a photo...

Rob                
Yes, we use a before singular nouns. A flat and a photo...

Emma           
...but in spoken English it's 'uh' not 'a'.

Finn               
I was living in a flat. Here's a photo. 

Emma           
Now, Finn also said he saw an elephant. Not a elephant. An elephant.

Rob                
That's because 'elephant' begins with 'e'. We use an, not a, before nouns that begin with 'a', 'e', 'i', 'o' - and most words starting with 'u'. We say an apple, an elephant, an ice-cream, an orange, an uncle. 

Emma           
But in spoken English, an sounds like 'un'. Finn.

Finn               
An apple, an elephant, an ice-cream, an orange, an uncle. 

Rob                
Now let's look at the [thuh] and the [thee]. Finn said:

Finn               
The elephant was giving rides to tourists...   

Emma           
Yes, and it's the elephant because it's the second time he mentions the elephant:

Rob                
A first time, and the [thuh] or the [thee] second time. And it's the [thee] not the [thuh] with elephant because elephant starts with 'e'. Finn. 

Finn               
I saw an elephant. The elephant was giving rides to tourists.

Emma       
Ok ... Now there was another one - the owner. Finn only mentioned the owner once, so why the [strong form] and not an [strong form]?

Rob                
Good question, and the answer is: we use the before a person or thing when it's clear exactly which person or thing we're talking about, even if it's the first time. Let's hear it again: 

Finn               
The owner told me that her name was Sambo.

Emma           
S
o Finn's talking about the owner of Sambo, not the owner of any unknown elephant.

Rob                
Ok, so that's a, an and the. Now let's hear more about elephants. Can you spot the articles in this sentence?

Finn               
African elephants are bigger than Indian elephants.             

Rob                
Actually there were no articles. Trick question, sorry! There's no article before African elephants and Indian elephants because we're talking about African elephants and Indian elephants in general...

Emma           
...not a specific African or Indian elephant.

Rob                
So in Finn's story, he didn't use an article when he talked about tourists in general.

Finn               
The elephant was giving rides to tourists.

IDENT     
You're listening to BBC Learning English.

Emm
And we're talking about articles.

Rob                
And now here are some top tips for using the.

Emma           
Tip one. Don't use the before the names of most countries, cities and continents.

Rob                
Just say: Saudi Arabia, Warsaw and Europe.

Emma           
Tip two: say the with countries with plural names or the words Republic or Kingdom in the name...

Rob                
The Maldives, The United Arab Emirates.

Emma           
Tip three: use the for the names of rivers, seas, oceans and mountain ranges...

Rob                
The Mississippi, The Red Sea, The Andes.

Emma           
Tip four: Don't use the before names of single mountains and lakes...

Rob                
Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Titicaca.

Emma           
And now it's quiz time. I'm going to say a sentence with or without an article and you have to say if it's correct or wrong. Ready? Number 1: I've got cat.

Rob                
That's wrong. It should be I've got a cat. Because you need an article before a singular noun when you mention it the first time. Or you can say I've got the cat if it's clear which cat we're talking about.

Emma           
Number 2. I'm going on holiday to United States next week. I'm so excited!

Rob                
Wrong again. It should be I'm going to the United States next week because it's a plural country name.

Emma           
And number 3. I love elephants!

Rob                
And that's correct because you're talking about elephants in general, so: no article needed.

Emma           
Well done if you got those right.

Rob                
There's lots more information about articles on our website at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again for more 6 Minute Grammar.

Both                  
Bye.

 

Downloads

You can download 6 Minute Grammar from our Unit 8 downloads page or from our 6 Minute Grammar podcast page.

End of Session 2

That's it for Session 2. We hope you thought it was an interesting session and a good learning experience. In session 3 we'll find out about the 'zero article' and how to pronounce articles. See you there!

Session Grammar

  • Articles: a, an, the, and (-) 'zero article'

    a or an means one person or thing. We use a or an:

    1) before singular nouns: We had a great day and we saw an elephant.

    2) before the name of a job: My sister wants to be an engineer.

    Use a before consonant sounds: a chair, a horse, a laptop. But use an before the letters a, e, i, o, u (except when u is pronounced /j/) an elephant, an uncle; and the letter h when the h is not pronounced: an hour

    We use the:

    1) Before singular nouns that we have already mentioned with a/an: I saw an elephant. The elephant's name was Sambo.

    2) Before singular, plural or uncountable nouns when it is clear which person or thing we mean: Put the money on the table.

    3) Before singular nouns when there is only one of the noun: The sun is hot today.

    4) With countries with plural names or the words 'Republic' or 'Kingdom' in the name: The Maldives, The United Arab Emirates.

    5) Before the names of rivers, seas, oceans and mountain ranges: The Mississippi, The Red Sea, The Andes.

    Use zero article (-) 

    1) Before nouns that refer to things in general: I like (-) elephants.

    2) Before the names of most countries, cities and continents: Saudi Arabia, Warsaw and Europe.

    3) Before names of single mountains and lakes: Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Titicaca.