Unit 8: Travel
Articles - a, an, the
Select a unit
- 1 Nice to meet you!
- 2 What to wear
- 3 Like this, like that
- 4 The daily grind
- 5 Christmas every day
- 6 Great achievers
- 7 The Titanic
- 8 Travel
- 9 The big wedding
- 10 Sunny's job hunt
- 11 The bucket list
- 12 Moving and migration
- 13 Welcome to BBC Broadcasting House
- 14 New Year, New Project
- 15 From Handel to Hendrix
- 16 What's the weather like?
- 17 The Digital Revolution
- 18 A detective story
- 19 A place to live
- 20 The Cult of Celebrity
- 21 Welcome to your new job
- 22 Beyond the planets
- 23 Great expectations!
- 24 Eco-tourism
- 25 Moving house
- 26 It must be love
- 27 Job hunting success... and failure
- 28 Speeding into the future
- 29 Lost arts
- 30 Tales of survival
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.
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.
Listen to the audio
Hello again. Welcome to 6 Minute Grammar with me, Rob.
And me, Emma. Hello.
In today's programme, we're talking about three little words: a, an and the.
Also known as articles. So let's start by saying hello to Finn.
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.
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.
And quite a few articles there. We had a flat and a photo...
Yes, we use a before singular nouns. A flat and a photo...
...but in spoken English it's 'uh' not 'a'.
I was living in a flat. Here's a photo.
Now, Finn also said he saw an elephant. Not a elephant. An elephant.
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.
But in spoken English, an sounds like 'un'. Finn.
An apple, an elephant, an ice-cream, an orange, an uncle.
Now let's look at the [thuh] and the [thee]. Finn said:
The elephant was giving rides to tourists...
Yes, and it's the elephant because it's the second time he mentions the elephant:
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.
I saw an elephant. The elephant was giving rides to tourists.
Ok ... Now there was another one - the owner. Finn only mentioned the owner once, so why the [strong form] and not an [strong form]?
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:
The owner told me that her name was Sambo.
So Finn's talking about the owner of Sambo, not the owner of any unknown elephant.
Ok, so that's a, an and the. Now let's hear more about elephants. Can you spot the articles in this sentence?
African elephants are bigger than Indian elephants.
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...
...not a specific African or Indian elephant.
So in Finn's story, he didn't use an article when he talked about tourists in general.
The elephant was giving rides to tourists.
You're listening to BBC Learning English.
And we're talking about articles.
And now here are some top tips for using the.
Tip one. Don't use the before the names of most countries, cities and continents.
Just say: Saudi Arabia, Warsaw and Europe.
Tip two: say the with countries with plural names or the words Republic or Kingdom in the name...
The Maldives, The United Arab Emirates.
Tip three: use the for the names of rivers, seas, oceans and mountain ranges...
The Mississippi, The Red Sea, The Andes.
Tip four: Don't use the before names of single mountains and lakes...
Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Titicaca.
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.
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.
Number 2. I'm going on holiday to United States next week. I'm so excited!
Wrong again. It should be I'm going to the United States next week because it's a plural country name.
And number 3. I love elephants!
And that's correct because you're talking about elephants in general, so: no article needed.
Well done if you got those right.
There's lots more information about articles on our website at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again for more 6 Minute Grammar.
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!
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.