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Use and Non-use of Articles

The articles a (or an) and the are signals for four distinctions: 1. 2. 3. 4. countable vs. noncountable definite vs. indefinite first vs. subsequent mention general vs. specific

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A/n signals that the noun it modifies is indefinite, that it refers to any member of a class. The signals that a noun is definite, that it refers to one particular member of a class.

Thus, specifying phrases occur freely with the, but only in certain contexts with a. The exception is when a noun is mentioned the first time. (See newness.) Indefinite a dog ie: any dog a book ie: any book Definite the dog ie: the one in the corner the book ie: the one that I'm reading

Note: The is also used when what its noun refers to is unique. The White House The theory of relativity The 1996 federal budget


A/n is used to introduce a noun when it is mentioned for the first time in a piece of writing. 1

when it was leaked that Clinton would be presenting medals to three athletes. and cunning. The snake is representative of strength. Specificity Both a/n and the can indicate that the countable noun is referring to the whole class. interest in the ceremony intensified. Nonetheless. ferocity. An award ceremony at the Metrodome would not normally have attracted so much attention.• The is used afterwards. Note: A generic (or general) meaning can also be expressed by omitting the article. This use of articles is called generic. Anger is a destructive emotion. other nouns simply never take either article: 2 . from the Latin word meaning "class. Example Plural Count Noun Noncount Noun Tigers are fearful animals. Meaning all tigers all sorts of angers Omission of Articles While some nouns combine with one article or the other because they are countable or noncountable. power. To single out one particular member. the must be used: The panda brought to the New York Zoo is a unique example of his species. Meaning every snake snakes as a whole class The difference between the indefinite a/n and the generic the is that the former denotes any one member of a class while the latter denotes all the members. each time the noun is mentioned." Example A snake may be a sign of the poisoning society performs upon our values.

political science. biology. basketball. Names of sports: volleyball.stcloudstate. soccer. English. http://leo. Names of academic subjects: mathematics. Spanish.• • • Names of languages: 3 .