Grammar For IELTS: A, An, The (Part 1)


Those little words that can be so difficult to use correctly— introduce and identify nouns. There are two kinds of articles in English: indefinite (a, an) and definite (the). Articles occur before nouns (the book) and before adjective + noun combinations (a big book).


Five of the eight underlined words or phrases contain an error related to articles. Can you explain why each of these underlined areas is (or is not) wrong? Discuss with a partner.

Architecture—More Than Solving Problems

In the architecture, as in any art, it is never enough to solve a problem. Building forms have the profound effect on the quality of life; the painting and the sculpture reflect, comment on, and affect future of the arts and of humanity.

If you can’t find all 5 errors from the paragraph above, go through our lesson about Article to get all articles done in a correct way!

  1. Article Basics

This chart gives you the basic uses of articles in English.

Count Nouns Noncount Nouns
Indefinite articles (a, an) a cat

an ugly cat

an answer


ugly cats


Definite article (the) the cat the cats the money

2. Three Rules for Avoiding Common Article Mistakes

The following three rules, repeated later in the chapter, are grouped here because they are the main rules that will help you avoid the most common mistakes with articles.

Rule 1. Use a, an, or the (or another word such as my or this) with singular count nouns.

  • Incorrect: Most university students own computer.
  • Correct: Most university students own a computer.

Rule 2. Use the with specific noun references, either singular or plural. Specific noun references are definite.

  • Incorrect: Title of this course sounds interesting.
  • Correct: The title of this course sounds interesting.
  • Incorrect: Questions on yesterday’s grammar test were difficult.
  • Correct: The questions on yesterday’s grammar test were difficult.

Rule 3. Do not use the with general noun references, either singular or plural. General noun references are indefinite.

  • Incorrect: Our government should spend more money on the education.
  • Correct: Our government should spend more money on education.
  • Incorrect: The successful presentations require planning and practice.
  • Correct: Successful presentations require planning and practice.

3. Indefinite Articles

The indefinite articles are a and an. Use a and an with indefinite singular count nouns. Here are the main rules for indefinite articles.

  • Use a and an to introduce a singular count noun.

Let’s take a speech class this semester.

There is an excellent show on TV tonight.

  • Use a and an to define or classify something.

Jambalaya is a rice dish that is native to south Louisiana.

My brother is an investigator for the city health department.

  • Use a and an to show that you are talking about one (of the item).

Excuse me. Do you have a pencil that I could borrow?

I need an eraser, as well.

  • Do not use one interchangeably to mean a. “Do you have one pencil?” emphasises the number, not the pencil.
  •  Special time expressions: One is used before day, week, month, and so forth, to refer to a particular time when something occurred, as in “One day I visited the new museum in town.”
  •  Use a and an for a general truth about a singular count noun. Reference is to all or most of the members in the group. (Note that a plural count noun without any article expresses the same idea.)

   A piano has 96 keys. (= Pianos have 96 keys.)

   A teacher should plan lessons. (= Teachers should plan lessons.)

  • We do not usually use an article with a noncount noun. Articles can be used with abstract nouns that are derived from verbs.

Time is money, (no article)

Hospitals saw a demand for better care, (abstract noun)

Read the sentences and determine which of the four rules applies to the underlined noun or noun phrase. Put the rule number(s) in the blank. The first one has been done for you.

1 .__3__Georgia O’Keeffe was an American painter born in 1887 near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

2 .______O’Keeffe grew up on a dairy farm and knew at an early age that she wanted to be an artist.

3 ._____She held jobs as a commercial artist and as a teacher before moving to New York in 1918.

4 .______In New York, O’Keeffe found a new life with Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer and owner of the 291 gallery.

5 ._______In 1928, she took a vacation and went to Taos, New Mexico.

6 ._______The trip had an impact of such enormity that it changed her life forever. She referred to northern New Mexico as “the faraway.”

7 ._______New Mexico was a place with wide vistas and far-reaching horizons. O’Keeffe bought a Model A Ford with which to explore the back roads of her new home.

8 .______O’Keeffe’s large-flower paintings have been referred to as a woman’s art style, as though art created by a woman differed from that made by a man.

9 .______Today O’Keeffe remains an important contributor to American art of the twentieth century.

Hope this post could help you increase your writing also speaking skills in the IELTS Test. Don’t forget to check out our website ( to find more tips about the IELTS Test.

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