Fluent Faster: A-The Articles Grammar

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For many English learners, a-the articles grammar can be a tricky thing to get right. So what are the articles in English grammar? English has only two articles: a/an and the.

Mastering these articles early on in your child’s education is super important. Bad habits will not go away with time, and poor article usage is one of those skills that will set aside good English speakers from great ones. 

In this lesson, we are going to start by giving you a basic understanding of a-the articles grammar. It may seem easy, but it will take time and a lot of practice for your child to get it perfectly correct. to help you out, we have given you an activity idea on how you can practice this with your child in a fun, engaging way. As well, we have made a worksheet and some quizzes that can help you check your child’s understanding.

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We will do our best to explain and give examples as we go, but if you still have questions about a-the articles grammar, feel free to comment on this post or click the link below.

click here to ask your English grammar questions

What are the Articles in English?

English only has two articles: a/an and the. “A/an” is called the indefinite article while “the” is the definite article. Learning the basic difference between these two is super important. In our sections below, we will look more closely at these two articles in English grammar. 

A and An Articles

“A” and “an” are considered the indefinite article in English. “A” and “an” have the same meaning, but “a” is paired with a word that starts with a consonant, while “an” goes with words that start with vowels.

Example:

  1. a ball
  2. a fish
  3. a door
  4. an egg
  5. an orange
  6. an ape
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A Vs An Worksheet

Getting your child to get used to choosing a or an should not be too difficult. You can use worksheets to get this done, but there are far more effective games you can use that will amount to the same thing. It is important that you get a vs an down before you expand into a-the articles grammar

If you still want an “a vs an” worksheet, then you can click on the link below to download one that we have made. On this worksheet, you will find two planets: one is “A” and the other is “An.” There are also several spaceships with words on them. Ask your child to get each ship home by drawing a line from each spaceship to their correct planet. 

A vs An Worksheet Alternative

If you aren’t a big fan of worksheets, then here is an alternative you can use. I personally prefer to not use worksheets, but some children like them. 

To practice “a vs an” as a game, you can write up some basic words on pieces of paper. Then, place two baskets labeled “a” and “an” on the ground. Ask your child to sort the words as fast as they can. I like to bring out my stopwatch and time them. Especially if there are multiple kids, the competition can be a lot of fun. 

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A and An Article Usage

We use a/an when we are talking about a noun, but the exact one of this noun is indefinite. It could be indefinite because it is not known or not important to the speaker. For this reason, a and an is called the indefinite article

So, in the sentence “I want a cookie,” we know that the speaker wants a cookie, but the speaker doesn’t care which one. Perhaps there are three cookies in a box, any one of these cookies is okay. But, the speaker only wants one cookie total.

Using cookies to understand a/the articles grammar.  When we say "I want a cookie," any cookie is good, but only 1.

In this case, we can think of a/an = 1. When teaching a-the articles grammar, emphasizing to children that a/an can mean 1, can help some children understand this concept quicker. 

I want a cookie. = I want one cookie.

If you want more than one, then you drop a/an and use a number.

I want two cookies.

I want three cookies.

Due to this, if a noun is uncountable, like water, we cannot use “a/an” with it. We would instead use a modifier like “cup” (I want a cup of water) or “some” (I want some water).

Examples:

I want a bun. = I want one bun.

She has a pen. = She has one pen.

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We can also use a/an to make general statements about things. For example:

A cheetah is very fast. 

A boat is a lot of fun.

A car is expensive.

These are all general statements about the noun they are describing. In this case, we use “a” because our statement should broadly apply to all cases of the noun, not just one in particular.

Here are some more examples to see how we can use “a” and “an” articles:

She is a girl in my class. (one of many girls)

Can you pass me a pencil? (one pencil of many)

Do you want to go to a restaurant? (any restaurant) 

A picnic in the summer is a nice way to spend the day. (general statement)

A plane is faster than a truck. (general statement)

Exceptions with A/An

We also have some exceptions when we are choosing to use either “a” or “an.” Generally, it is very easy. “An” is with vowels, and “a” is with consonants. However, in English, some words start with a consonant, but they make a vowel sound

I will see you in an hour. (the “h” here is silent, so the first sound is a vowel)

I always grow an herb on the windowsill. (the “h” in herb is silent in American English, so we use “an”)

The opposite can also be true, where vowels go first, but a consonant sound is made. This happens in acronyms like US, UN, or UK. 

I see a UN aid worker.

He is a US general.

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The Definite Article: The

“The” is the definite article in English. If we are specifying a specific noun, then we are going to use “the” before it.

Like with the example before, we are going to use cookies to illustrate a-the articles grammar. There are three cookies, but maybe you think the two on the left don’t look very nice. So you could say:

I want the cookie on the right.

A picture showing a/the articles grammar with cookies. When we use the, we use it to single out a specific noun.

Another important thing to know is that unlike “a/an,” “the” can be used with singular, plural, or uncountable nouns.

I want the table over there. (singular)

I already have the cards I need. (plural)

Can you pass me the bread? (uncountable)

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Exceptions to “The”

One exception we see with “the” is when we are using proper nouns. When we are talking about a specific person, city, or country, we drop all articles. Let’s compare a couple similar sentences to see how this works with typical a-the articles grammar:

I want to go to a city. (any city)

I want to go to the biggest city in the world. (specific unnamed city)

I want to go to New York City. (specific named city)

Some places do already have “the” in the title like “the United States,” in which case you would just keep “the.”

I want to go to the United States.

A-The Articles Grammar

One of the hardest things when it comes to articles is figuring out which one to use. They might understand a-the articles grammar, but still have troubles using it correctly. 

In my view, the easiest way to learn is to see it visually, and then to practice it a bit yourself. 

Learning a/the articles grammar with fish.  Teh tank has seven fish that look lik this: #1 small, green #2 big, blue #3 big, orange #4 small, red #5 small, blue #6 big, orange #7 small, blue

In this tank, we have some big fish and some small fish. We also have different colored fish. In total, there are seven fish, so let’s look at some sentences you might want use to say you want a fish.

I want a fish.

I want the fish.

Here are two basic sentences you might make. The thing is, only one is correct. The other is wrong in this case. Do you know which one it is?

I want a fish. Correct!

I want the fish. Wrong!

When we say “I want a fish,” it is indefinite, you don’t care which one. So any one of the fish would be a fish you would want.

So why is “I want the fish” wrong? Because there are seven fish, but you haven’t told me which one you want. Because you have used “the,” I know there is a specific or definite fish that you want, but you haven’t told me which one. 

Instead, you could say, “I want the green fish.” This is a good sentence as then I know you want fish #1.

Let’s look at two more sentences, but now with added adjectives.

I want the blue fish.

I want a blue fish.

What do you think about these sentences? Which fish would work for each sentence?

In this case, “I want the blue fish” is wrong. Why? Because there are three blue fish in the tank. You need to use more description to tell me which blue fish you want.

Instead, you could say:

I want the big, blue fish. (fish #2)

I want the blue fish at the top of the tank. (fish #5)

I want the small, blue fish at the bottom of the tank. (fish #7)

As for “I want a blue fish.” This is a good sentence as that would make fish #2, #5, or #7 a good fish for you.

If this all makes sense now, then congratulations on understanding a-the articles grammar. You can take a look at our quiz below to test your knowledge. If you still have questions, click on the button at the bottom of this article, and ask us whatever you need. We will do our best to email you as quickly as possible with an answer.  

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A-The Articles Grammar Quiz

The concept of a/an vs the can be a little hard for children to understand at first. The easiest way to learn is to practice, so we have made up some pictures and questions for you to practice with. 

Above these two pictures, you will see some sentences like “I want a cookie.” Your child needs to tell you all of the cookies that could fit that sentence. Each of the objects will be labeled with numbers, so they can just say or write down the correct numbers if that is easiest. 

Some of the sentences will not have a correct answer. Your child can mark these with an “x” to show that they know there isn’t a correct answer.

We will include an answer key at the bottom of this article for you to use as well.

Articles Quiz 1

  1. I want a black cat.
  2. I want the small, white cat.
  3. I want the big, gray cat.
  4. I want a small cat.
A/the Articles Grammar Quiz 1:
#1 big, gray cat
#2 small, white cat
#3 big, gray cat
#4 big, black cat
#5 small, gray cat
#6 small, black cat
#7 big, white cat
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Articles Quiz 2

  1. I want the pink car.
  2. I want a red car.
  3. I want the small, blue car.
  4. I want a car.
A/the Articles Grammar Quiz 2:
#1 big, red car
#2 small, yellow car
#3 small, blue car
#4 big, pink car
#5 big, red car
#6 big, blue car
#7 small, red car
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Final Thoughts

Articles in English are both easier and harder than they appear. Luckily, there are only two articles in English: a/an and the. “A/an” is used for indefinite cases, and “the” is used for definite cases. Seems easy, right?

However, as we have seen, it can be harder to use a-the articles grammar correctly when it comes to practice. We hope that our explanations of a, an, and the have made it easier for you and your child. Feel free to use our pre-made worksheet and quizzes. As always, we encourage you to make this lesson your own and tailor it to your child. Make it as fun and original as possible.

Once you are done here, maybe it is time you tackle another grammar point to help your child improve their English. A great place to move to next is a lesson on countable and uncountable nouns or the phonics of vowels and consonants.

If you need any help, just leave a comment on this post or hit the picture below, and we can do our best. Good luck.

click here to ask your English grammar question

Quiz 1 Answer Key

  1. #4 and #7
  2. #2
  3. X
  4. #2, #5, and #6

Quiz 2 Answer Key

  1. #4
  2. #1, #5, and #7
  3. #3
  4. All of them
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