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STUDY NOTES FOR SSC AND STATE LEVEL EXAMS

ARTICLES The sentence above refers to specific children and


Introduction a specific way home; it contrasts with the much
An  article (with the linguistic glossing more general observation that:
abbreviation  art) is a word that is used with e.g., Children know the fastest ways home.
a noun (as a standalone word or a prefix or suffix) The latter sentence refers to children in general
to specify grammatical definiteness of the noun, and their specific ways home. Likewise,
and in some languages extending to volume or Give me the book.refers to a specific book whose
numerical scope. identity is known or obvious to the listener; as
The articles in English grammar are the and a/ such it has a markedly different meaning from
an, and in certain contexts some.  "An" and e.g., Give me a book.
"a" are modern forms of the Old English "an", which uses an indefinite article, which does not
which in Anglian dialects was the number "one" specify what book is to be given.
(compare "on" in Saxon dialects) and survived The definite article can also be used in English to
into Modern Scots as the number "owan". Both indicate a specific class among other classes:
"on" (respelled "one" by the Norman language) e.g., The cabbage white butterfly lays its eggs on
and "an" survived into Modern English, with members of the Brassica genus.
"one" used as the number and "an" ("a", before However, recent developments show that definite
nouns that begin with a consonant sound) as an articles are morphological elements linked to
indefinite article. certain noun types due to lexicalization. Under
this point of view, definiteness does not play a
The articles “a,” “an,” and “the” are difficult for role in the selection of a definite article more than
many non-native speakers of English to learn to the lexical entry attached to the article.
use properly. Some of the rules that govern article INDEFINITE ARTICLE
usage are very subtle; only years of experience An indefinite article indicates that its noun is not
with the language will enable you to understand a particular one identifiable to the listener. It may
and apply these rules. However, Table 3 will help be something that the speaker is mentioning for
you eliminate many errors in article usage from the first time, or the speaker may be making a
your writing. general statement about any such thing. a/an are
the indefinite articles used in English. The form
In order to use Table 3, however, you have an is used before words that begin with a vowel
to understand two concepts: countability and sound (even if spelled with an initial consonant,
definiteness. These concepts are explained as in an hour), and a before words that begin with
in detail below. The last part of this handout, a consonant sound (even if spelled with a vowel,
beginning on page 7, discusses article usage as in a European).
with proper nouns as well as the difference e.g., She had a house so large that an elephant would
between “a” and “an.” At the very end of the get lost without a map.
handout is an exercise that you can do to test your Before some words beginning with a pronounced
understanding. (not silent) h in an unstressed first syllable,
Definite article such as historic(al), hallucination, hilarious,
The definite article is used to refer to a particular horrendous, and horrific, some (especially
member of a group or class. It may be something older) British writers prefer to use an over a (an
that the speaker has already mentioned or it may historical event, etc.).[7] An is also preferred
be something uniquely specified. There is one before hotel by some writers of British English
definite article in English, for both singular and (probably reflecting the relatively recent adoption
plural nouns: the: of the word from French, in which the h is not
e.g., The children know the fastest way home. pronounced).[8] The use of "an" before words

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STUDY NOTES FOR SSC AND STATE LEVEL EXAMS
beginning with an unstressed "h" is more common children). A few words are the same in both the
generally in British English than in American. singular and plural forms (deer, sheep).
[8] American writers normally use a in all these Uncountable nouns often refer to food, beverages,
cases, although there are occasional uses of an substances, or abstractions (meat, tea, steel,
historic(al) in American English.[9] According to information); some uncountable nouns (but not the
the New Oxford Dictionary of English, such use is abstract ones) can be made countable by adding a
increasingly rare in British English too.[7] Unlike count frame in front of them (two gallons of milk,
British English, American English typically uses six blocks of ice, a bar of soap, a bunch of celery).
an before herb, since the h in this word is silent Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut distinction
for most Americans. The correct usage in respect between countable and uncountable nouns. Some
of the term "hereditary peer" was the subject of an nouns can be both countable and uncountable
amendment debated in the UK Parliament. even without adding count frames. For example,
The word some can be viewed as functionally as an uncountable noun, “experience” refers to
a plural of a/an in that, for example, "an apple" abstract knowledge or skill that can be gained
never means more than one apple but "give me by observing or participating in events. As a
some apples" indicates more than one is desired singular or plural countable noun (“experience/
but without specifying a quantity. In this view it experiences”), it refers to a particular instance (or
is functionally homologous to the Spanish plural instances) of participation in events. Similarly,
indefinite article unos/unas; un/una ("one") the uncountable noun “glass” is a substance made
is completely indistinguishable from the unit from silicates; “a glass” (singular) is something
number, except where it has a plural form (unos/ you drink out of; and “glasses” (plural) are frames
unas). Thus Dame una manzana" ("Give me an containing lenses that correct imperfect vision.
apple") but "Dame unas manzanas" ("Give me There are other exceptions to the countable/
some apples"). The indefiniteness of some or unos uncountable distinction as well. Moreover, a
can sometimes be semiquantitatively narrowed, as noun that is countable in your native language
in "There are some apples there, but not many." may be uncountable in English, and vice-versa.
Some also serves as a singular indefinite article, as For example, “soap” is countable in Spanish but
in e.g., "There is some person on the porch". uncountable in English. However, as long as you
ZERO ARTICLE are aware of these differences, they probably
The zero article is the absence of an article. In won't cause you much difficulty.
languages having a definite article, the lack of In the Oxford dictionary, nouns are countable
an article specifically indicates that the noun is unless they are designated by the letter
indefinite. Linguists interested in X-bar theory
causally link zero articles to nouns lacking a 1. If a noun can be either countable or uncountable
determiner.[16] In English, the zero article rather (with different definitions, as in the examples
than the indefinite is used with plurals and mass given above), then the uncountable definitions are
nouns, although the word "some" can be used as preceded by [u], and the countable definitions are
an indefinite plural article. preceded by [c], as in the following example.
e.g., Visitors end up walking in mud.
ad.ven.ture n 1 [c] a strange or unusual happening
COUNTABILITY
(The explorer told the boys about his adventure in
Countable nouns refer to people, places, or things the Artic). 2 [u] risk; danger (Robin Hood lives a
that can be counted (one dollar/two dollars, one life of adventure.)
house/two houses). They can always be made
plural—usually by adding -s or some other
variation of the plural ending (students, countries, Table 1: Some Common Uncountable English

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STUDY NOTES FOR SSC AND STATE LEVEL EXAMS
Nouns
Knows specifi-
Food and drink: bacon, beef, beer, bread,
cally what is be-
broccoli, butter, cabbage, candy, cauliflower,
ing referred to?
celery, cereal, cheese, chicken, chocolate, coffee,
Writer/ Reader/
corn, cream, fish, flour, fruit, ice cream, lettuce,
speak- listener
meat, milk, oil, pasta, rice, salt, spinach, sugar,
er
tea, water, wine, yogurt
Nonfood substances: air, cement, coal, dirt, definite: Can I use Yes Yes
gasoline, gold, ice, leather, paper, petroleum, the car?
plastic, rain, rubber, silver, snow, soap, steel, indefinite: I saw a fun- Yes No
wood, wool ny-looking
Abstract nouns: advice, anger, beauty, dog today.
confidence, courage, employment, fun, happiness, indefinite: I heard that No Yes
health, honesty, information, intelligence, you once
knowledge, love, poverty, satisfaction, truth, wrote a
wealth book about
Others: biology (and other areas of study), ecology.
clothing, equipment, furniture, homework, indefinite: I need to No No
jewelry, luggage, lumber, machinery, mail, buy a new
money, news, poetry, pollution, research, scenery, belt.
traffic, transportation, violence, weather, work
DEFINITENESS FIVE SOURCES OF
A noun is definite if it refers to something specific DEFINITENESS
that is known to both the writer/speaker and the There are five principal ways in which a reader/
reader/listener. (Note: You should memorize this listener can know specifically what a noun is
definition!) For example, if Jane needs to drive referring to (that is, five reasons a noun might be
somewhere, she might ask her father, “May I considered definite):
use the car?” She uses the definite article “the” 11. The noun has been previously mentioned.
because both she and her father know which car I saw a funny-looking dog yesterday [first
Jane is referring to (the family car). But later mention, indefinite]. It looked like a cross
she might say to her friend Bill, “I saw a funny- between a Pekinese and a German shepherd.
looking dog today.” She uses the indefinite When it saw my cat, the dog ran away [second
article “a” because she knows which dog she mention, definite].
saw, but Bill doesn't. 12. A superlative or ranking adjective makes the
Table 2 illustrates that there are four possible noun's identity specific.
conditions involved in this decision, but only one The tallest girl in the class is 6’2” tall. [There can
results in a noun that is definite. be only one girl who is the tallest.]
Table 2: Matrix of Definiteness/Indefiniteness* Please read the fourth paragraph on page 3. [There
can be only one fourth paragraph.]
Today is the most important day of my life. [There
can be only one day that is the most important.]
13. The noun describes a unique person, place, or
thing.
The earth revolves around the sun once every 365
days. [There is only one earth and only one sun--
in our solar system, that is!]

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STUDY NOTES FOR SSC AND STATE LEVEL EXAMS

14. A modifying word, phrase, or clause follows the CHOOSING THE APPROPRIATE
noun and makes it clear which specific person or ARTICLE
thing you are referring to. But not every noun that is In order to choose the appropriate article for a
modified in this way is definite; it depends largely noun, you first need to decide whether the noun
on the situation and on what you can reasonably is singular. One way to determine this is to ask
expect your listener/reader to know about. yourself whether you could put the number
Do you remember the girl who went camping with “one” in front of it. For example, you can say
us? “one experiment,” but not “one knowledge”
[Using the here implies that there was only one girl or “one examples;” therefore, “experiment” is
who went camping with you; otherwise the clause singular, whereas “knowledge” is uncountable and
who went camping with us would not be sufficient “examples” is plural.
to identify the particular girl that you are referring Table 3 shows that if the noun is singular, you
to. If there were two girls, then you would have must use either “the” or “a”/”an” in front of the
to be more specific, saying perhaps “Do you noun, depending on whether it is definite (known
remember the girl from Iowa who went camping to both yourself and your readers) or not.
with us last May?”] If the noun is not singular, then it must be either
John is reading a book about quantum physics. plural or uncountable. Table 3 shows that article
[Here the noun book is modified by the phrase usage is the same for both plural and uncountable
about quantum physics. But there is undoubtedly nouns: you will use either “the” or “0” (no article)
more than one book about quantum physics. in front of the noun. Again, the final decision
Therefore, to make book definite, we would have depends on whether the noun is definite or not.
to add more information: the book about quantum Table 3: Choosing the Appropriate Article
physics that was assigned by Professor Jackson Singular Nouns (one of something that is
last week.] countable)
20. The context or situation makes the noun’s identity Is the noun definite?
clear. For example, you might ask someone to Yes: Use “the”
“Close the door.” You would use the because it The painting in the living room was given to me by
would undoubtedly be clear to both of you which an old friend.
door you were referring to. Similarly, if you tell “Painting” and “living room” are singular because
someone that you are going to the library, that we are referring to only one painting and one
person will assume that you are talking about living room. “Painting” is definite because the
whichever library is most familiar to both of you— following phrase, in the living room, makes it
RPI's Folsom Library, for example. clear which painting we are referring to (reason 4,
Again, you have to be sure that your reader or above). (However, it could be indefinite if there
listener has the same context or situation in mind is more than one painting in the living room that
that you are thinking of; otherwise, he or she will the speaker could be referring to; in that case, the
be confused by your use of the. For example, one speaker would say “A painting....”). “Living room”
student wrote the following sentence. is definite because it is clear from the context of
This magazine helps women analyze the the situation that the speaker is referring to the
problematic situation and offers possible remedies. living room closest to where he and the listener are
But this was the first time she had mentioned a standing (reason 5, above).
problematic situation. Her readers were therefore No: Use “a” or “an”
confused, because her use of the word the implied Eugene’s lunch consisted of a sandwich, two
that they were already supposed to know which cookies, and a can of soda.
problematic situation she was referring to.

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STUDY NOTES FOR SSC AND STATE LEVEL EXAMS
“Sandwich” and “can” are both singular (there is only one of Using Articles With Proper Nouns
each). They could be definite if the listener/reader So far we have been talking only about using
had seen Eugene's sandwich and can of soda, or articles with common nouns. The rules for proper
if they had been mentioned before. However, the nouns are more complex.
speaker/writer's choice of the indefinite article Proper nouns are names of particular people,
“a” for both nouns tells us that they are unknown places, and things (John F. Kennedy, New York
to the listener/reader. City, Notre Dame Cathedral), and for that reason
Plural or Uncountable Nouns they are inherently definite. Nevertheless, the
Is the noun definite? definite article is not used with most singular
Yes: Use “the” proper nouns. For example, if you are referring
The technical reports that I gave you are top to your friend George, you wouldn't say “The
secret. (plural and definite) George and I went to a movie last night.” The
“Reports” is plural (ends in -s) because we are only times “the” is used with a name like this
talking about more than one report. It is definite are: a) when you want to be emphatic, as in “the
because the following phrase, that I gave you, Elizabeth Taylor” (to emphasize that you are
makes it clear to the reader/listener which reports talking about the famous actress, and not about
you are referring to (reason 4, above). another woman with the same name), and b) when
The wool that is produced in Scotland is used you are actually using the name as a common
to make sweaters. (uncountable and definite) noun, as in “the George that I introduced you to
“Wool” is uncountable (you cannot say “one last night” (the real meaning of this phrase is the
wool”). It is definite because the following clause, man named
that is produced in Scotland, makes it clear which George...”). Plural names, on the other hand,
wool you are referring to (reason 4, above). are always preceded by “the”: the Johnsons, the
No: Use 0 (no article) Bahamas, etc.
Long reports are difficult to write. (plural and Singular geographical names are very irregular
indefinite) with respect to article usage. For example,
“Reports” is plural (note that it ends in -s). The singular names of continents (Asia, Africa),
lack of an article in front of it means that the mountains (Mount Fuji), and bays (San Francisco
speaker/writer is talking not about particular Bay) do not take the article “the,” but regions
reports that are known to the listener/reader, but (the Crimea), deserts (the Sahara), and other
about all long reports in general. geographical entities do.
Scotland's major exports are wool and oil. Indeed, the use of articles with singular proper
(uncountable and indefinite) nouns is complex and hence difficult to learn, as
“Wool” and “oil” are both uncountable nouns indicated by the examples below. For this reason,
(you cannot say “one wool” or “one oil” in this the best thing to do is to memorize whether the
context). They are indefinite because they refer to proper nouns that you use frequently are used
these two substances in general, not to particular with or without “the.”
shipments of wool and oil that are known to the Examples:
reader/listener. State Street the Empire State Building
An easy way to eliminate a lot of mistakes is to Delaware County
look through your writing for every occurrence of Great Britain the Soviet Union the University
“a” and “an.” Then examine the noun that follows of Virginia Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute the
each “a” or “an.” If the noun is either plural or United Nations (the U.N.) the Organization of
uncountable, then you have made a mistake, and Petroleum Exporting Countries (but “OPEC,” not
you should refer to Table 3 to determine whether “the OPEC”)
to use “the” or “0” instead. “A” Versus “An”

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STUDY NOTES FOR SSC AND STATE LEVEL EXAMS
This last topic is undoubtedly the easiest, because seldom use articles incorrectly; therefore, any
most non-native speakers already know about the errors that you make are very noticeable and
difference between “a” and “an.” They are simply distracting to them. That is why you should make
two variations of the indefinite article. “A” is an effort to use articles correctly.
used before words that begin with consonant Study this handout – particularly the “Five Sources
sounds (a rock, a large park) and “an” is used of Definiteness,” Table 3, and the learning hints.
before vowel sounds (an interesting subject, an Memorize the definition of definiteness (“known
apple). to both the writer/speaker and the reader/
However, note that the choice of “a” or “an” listener”). Then try the Exercise toward the end
depends on pronunciation, not spelling. Many of this handout; the correct answers are provided
words that begin with the vowel -u- are preceded on the following page so that you can check your
by “a” instead of “an” because the -u- spelling is work.
often pronounce -yu-, as in useful (“a useful idea”), In the future, whenever you write in English,
and uranium (“a uranium isotope”). In addition, in you will need to proofread your writing carefully
a few words that were borrowed from French, the and to apply the rules for article usage very
initial consonant -h- is not pronounced: an heir deliberately. Then come to the Writing Center and
to the throne, an hour-long lecture, an honorable ask a tutor specifically to correct any remaining
agreement, etc. errors in your article usage. With practice, you can
A Strategy For Success learn to use articles correctly!
Keep in mind that native speakers of English

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STUDY NOTES FOR SSC AND STATE LEVEL EXAMS

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