Grammar in EAP

Articles

Rules

The indefinite article is used with singular countable nouns. It narrows down the reference of the following noun to a single member of a class. Corresponding to the indefinite article with singular countable nouns, we find the zero article with uncountables and with plural countable nouns. The zero article refers to a whole class rather than an individual. The definite article combines with both countable and uncountable nouns. It specifies that the referent of the noun phrase is assumed to be known to the speaker and the addressee (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, 1999, pp.260-270).

The use of articles depends mainly on three things (See Murphy, 1985, pp. 138-155; Hewings, 1999, pp. 112-125 for practice):

  1. It depends whether or not the noun is countable (book)or uncountable (information).
  2. It depends whether we mean things in general or particular examples.
  3. When we refer to particular examples, it depends whether they are definite or indefinite.

1. Countable/uncountable.

There are a number of biographies of Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative leader.

The book casts an enormous amount of light on the inner life of the party.

Students do not like examinations. It is useful information.

  • a/an can only be used with singular countable nouns.
  • the can be used with any kind of noun.
  • plural nouns and uncountable nouns can be used with no article.
  • singular nouns cannot be used with no article.

 

a/an

the

no article

singular countable

a book

the book

x

plural countable

x

the books

books

uncountable

x

the information

information

 

2. Things in general.

When we refer to a whole class of things (e.g. all music or all business), we usually use a plural countable noun or uncountable noun with no article.

Errors re more frequent at night than during the day.

The intake of food and water should be constant throughout the day.

I 'm studying business.

He likes books.

When we use an article with a plural or countable noun, the meaning is particular, not general.

He reads books and magazines. (all books and all magazines - books and magazines in general).

BUT

He likes the books (in the library) and the magazines (in the shop).

3. Referring to particular things.

The has a definite meaning. We use the definite article when the listener knows what is being referred to.

You should read the text book.

How was the exam?

BUT

I've got an exam tomorrow.

She's studying to be a lawyer.

Things can be particular, but indefinite.

Could I have a piece of paper?

Would you like a drink?

Useful rules

  1. Do not use the (with plural and uncountable nouns) to refer to things in general.
    Meat is bad for health. (NOT: The meat is bad for health.)
  2. Do not use singular countable nouns without articles.
    the classroom, a classroom (NOT: classroom)
  3. Us a/an to describe what people's professions or jobs are.
    She's a lecturer. (NOT: She's lecturer.)

Special rules

1. Common expressions with no article after preposition.

I'm going to school.

I work at home.

What did you have for dinner?

2. Genitive possessives.

Have you seen John's coat?

We should discuss America's economic problems.

3. We can use the with many adjectives to talk about people in general.

the rich, the poor, the unemployed, the blind, the deaf, the disabled, the young, the old.

Or with some nationalities to refer to the people of that country.

the French, the British, the Irish, the Japanese, the Chinese

4. Place names

We use the with:

Seas

the Pacific, the Mediterranean

Mountain groups

the Himalayas, the Andes, the Alps

Island Groups

the West Indies, the Canary Islands, the British Isles

Regions

the Middle East, the Far East, the south of China, the north of France

Rivers

the Nile, the Thames

Deserts

the Sahara

Hotels

the Grand Hotel, the Hilton

Cinemas

the Odeon, the ABC

Theatres

the National Theatre

Institutions

the House of Commons, the National Trust

We use no article with:

Continents

Asia, Europe, Africa, South America

Counties

Hertfordshire, Kent, Oxfordshire, Devon

States

Texas, Alabama, California

Towns

Hertford, St Albans, Watford
Except: e.g. The Hague

Streets

London Road

Mountains

Everest, Etna, Helvelyn

Lakes

Lake Windermere, Lake Superior

Countries

Thailand, China
Except: e.g. The People's Republic of China, the United Kingdom, The United States of America, The Netherlands

Shops and banks

Lloyds Bank, Harrods, Macdonalds

Principal buildings of a town

Oxford University, Salisbury Cathedral, Luton Airport.

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