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10 Mistakes with English Articles

The Problem with The


If you are learning English as a second (or third, or fourth) language, theres a good chance that
you think articles are a pain in the neck, regardless of your native language. As an English
teacher, I have noticed that it can be particularly confusing to determine when to use the definite
article the and when to omit the article, especially when the rules seem a bit arbitrary. Check
out the ten sentences below and see if you can spot the mistakes before you read the correction
and explanation.
Country Names
INCORRECT: Jane is going to U.K. this summer.
CORRECT: Jane is going to the U.K. this summer.
Normally we dont use the before the names of countries unless that name represents a
collection of places. Examples: the United States, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates.
Languages
INCORRECT: That is one of the best books in English language.
CORRECT: That is one of the best books in the English language.
We dont use the before the names of languages when they are used as nouns. However, in this
case English is an adjective telling us which specific language, so we do need the definite
article.
Bodies of water
INCORRECT: St. Lawrence river flows from the Lake Ontario to Atlantic Ocean.
CORRECT: The St. Lawrence river flows from (no article) Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean.
Heres a tricky one: Do use the for the names of rivers and oceans, but not for lakes. (Again,
unless its a collection, like the Great Lakes.)

Academics and sports


INCORRECT: The biology is Kevins favorite subject, and the soccer is his favorite sport.
CORRECT: (No article) Biology is Kevins favorite subject, and (no article) soccer is his
favorite sport.
Dont use the before academic subjects or sports.
Geography
INCORRECT: Would you rather be stuck in the Antarctica or Sahara Desert?
CORRECT: Would you rather be stuck in (no article) Antarctica or the Sahara Desert?
Dont use the with continents, but do use the with deserts, forests, geographical areas, and
points on the globe.

Musical instruments
INCORRECT: Do you play saxophone?
CORRECT: Do you play the saxophone?
Do use the before musical instruments.

Common places
INCORRECT: Valerie cant answer her cellphone right now because shes in the class.
CORRECT: Valerie cant answer her cellphone right now because shes in (no article) class.
Dont use an article before common expressions of place such as home, work, school,
bed, class, jail, and prison.

Products and Holidays


INCORRECT: The Microsoft will be introducing several new products around the Christmas.
CORRECT: (No article) Microsoft will be introducing several new products around (no article)
Christmas.
Dont use the before the names of companies and holidays used as nouns.

Day-to-day vs. special occasions


INCORRECT: We will help you make the dinner.
CORRECT: We will help you make (no article) dinner.
Dont use the before breakfast, lunch, or dinner when talking about everyday meals.
You can use the when referring to a specific event. Example: The reception begins at 5. The
dinner will be at 6, and the dance will begin at 8.

Generalizations
INCORRECT: Listening to the music is very relaxing.
CORRECT: Listening to (no article) music is very relaxing.
Dont use the with a noncount or plural count noun when you are making a generalization.

Some more errors in the use of adverbs


Different kinds of adverbs go in different positions in a sentence. The usage is sometimes very
different, too. ESL students often find it difficult to use adverbs correctly. Here are some
common mistakes in the use of adverbs.
Incorrect: He plays tennis good.
Correct: He plays tennis well.
Good is an adjective. The adverb for this meaning is well.
Incorrect: I am very much sorry.
Correct: I am very sorry.
Very is used without much before adjectives and adverbs in the positive degree.
Incorrect: I am much tired.
Correct: I am very tired.
Much does not mean the same as very.
Incorrect: She is so poor to pay the dues.
Correct: She is too poor to pay the dues.
Incorrect: It is very hot to go out.
Correct: It is too hot to go out.
Note the structure tooto.
Incorrect: She carefully drove.
Correct: She drove carefully.
Incorrect: She angrily spoke.
Correct: She spoke angrily.
Adverbs of manner usually go in the end-position.
Incorrect: The room is enough spacious for us.
Correct: The room is spacious enough for us.
The adverb enough goes after the adjective or adverb it modifies.
Incorrect: I know to swim.
Correct: I know how to swim.
Know cannot be directly followed by an infinitive. Instead we use the structure know how to.
Incorrect: He is not clever to solve the problem.
Correct: He is not clever enough to solve the problem.
Incorrect: He is now too strong to walk.
Correct: He is now strong enough to walk.

Use of negative adverbs


Rarely does he speak French.