This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index
You are in: Home > Grammar, Vocabulary & Pronunciation
Learn It
Article or no article?
Bilal from Pakistan writes:
  It seems to me that there are four types of article: a, an, the and no article. Is that right? Is no article a type of article?
Roger Woodham replies:
There are really three types of article, Bilal, the indefinite article, the definite article and zero or no article.
a / an
A and an are the same type of indefinite article, used when we are referring to one of many or when we don't know which ones are referred to. The only difference is that an is used before nouns or adjective noun combinations beginning with a vowel sound and a is used before nouns and adjective noun combinations beginning with a consonant sound. Compare the following:
I saw an elephant, a lion and a tiger come down to the watering hole in a clearing in the jungle.
I met an Australian backpacker in a bar in Birmingham.
the, not a
Note that there is one specific jungle - the one that we are talking about - so the is used to refer to it. Similarly there is one specific watering hole in this particular clearing (therefore the watering hole) but there are a number of clearings in the jungle (therefore a clearing). In Birmingham you will find a number of Australian backpackers and a number of bars, we don't say which ones, therefore an Australian backpacker and a bar.
an hour and a half
Note that with most adjectives and nouns beginning with the letter h, the h is pronounced, making it a consonant sound. Where the h is silent as in honest and hour, these words start with a vowel sound, thus requiring an rather than a before the adjective or noun:
I hoped to find a hippo and an ostrich in the game park but there were none.
I think he's an honest and trustworthy man. He said he would meet me in an hour and a half.
no article
No article, or zero article as it is usually called, is definitely a form of article. We use zero article with plural and uncountable nouns when we are referring to things in general:
Tennis is a beautiful game.
French chefs make the best cooks.
Cheese in France is usually made from cows' or goats' milk.
But note, when we want to be specific, the definite article is needed:
The tennis played by Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon this year was awesome.
The French chef at La Caprice is one of the best in the south east.
I'm still eating the cheese I bought in France last month. It's delicious.
common nouns: no article
With commonly used nouns when there is general reference and when they are used with prepositions there is normally no article:
school, college, university
By law in England you have to go to school when you reach the age of five.
At college or university you have more time for self-study.
work, home, bed
After work I like to meet my friends before I go home.
She was not at home or she was in bed asleep when I called.
prison, hospital, church
If you commit a crime, you may have to go to prison.
If you have a serious illness, you will get the best care in hospital.
I used to go to church every Sunday when I was a child.
breakfast, lunch, dinner
For breakfast I need lots of orange juice and strong coffee to get me going.
After lunch I always have a snooze before starting work again.
And then I can work on without a break until dinner.
spring, summer, autumn
In winter I always seem to need more sleep than in summer.
You can harvest strawberries in early spring in Spain and Morocco.
Christmas, New Year, Easter
After Christmas with my parents I like to spend New Year with my friends.
On New Year's Eve there are lots of fireworks on the river in our town.
bike, train, foot
You'll get there faster by bike than by bus or car.
It's probably safest, though, to go on foot.
Note, however, that for specific reference, the definite article will be necessary:
The church I went to as a child has been converted into a bingo hall.
The lunch they prepared to celebrate my birthday was stunning.
The summer of 1979 remains one of the wettest on record.
'Tennis' or 'the tennis'? Article or no article?

Noun-verb agreement

Situation, position, condition
  Third conditional
  Animal idioms
  no = not a / not any
  Learnit Archive