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Definite / Indefinite Articles

The definite article is THE. We use it to refer to people and things we assume our reader/listener knows about and can identify.
Word cloud on words. Illustration.
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The Definite Article

The definite article is THE. We use it to refer to people and things we assume our reader/listener knows about and can identify.

We use it in front of
a) singular and plural nouns: The book was cheap. The books were cheap.

b) the names of some countries, groups of islands, mountain ranges, oceans and rivers:
the United Kingdom, the United States (of America), the Netherlands, the Sahara, the
Himalayas, the English Channel, the Thames, the Bahamas.

Check a dictionary if you are in doubt.

c) the names of newspapers, hotels, restaurants, theatres, museums.
He always buys the Daily Mail. They stayed at the Savoy.

d) nouns like theatre, cinema, office when we think about them in general.
I’m going to the theatre/cinema. She’ll be in the office all day.

The definite article is not used
a) in front of abstract nouns when we talk about them in a general sense. However, we need
the definite article if we refer to a particular example of such nouns.
Life is short. Society is changing. Love gives life an extra dimension. Man is a curious
BUT: It was different from the life he used to live. The man flashed his lights.

b) about things and people when we talk about them in general.
Cats are lovely animals. Workers were called in to repair the road.

c) a number of fixed expressions
to go by car/plane/train, to go to/be in prison, to go to/be in church, to go to/be in school.
She goes to school every day. My cousin went to church every Sunday when she was

The Indefinite Article

The indefinite article is a in front of a consonant and an in front of a vowel. It is the pronunciation, rather than the spelling, that matters, cf. an hour, a year, an initiative.
A noun preceded by the indefinite article becomes almost by definition a countable noun (‘tellelig substantiv'). See nouns below.

The indefinite article is used
a) in front of countable nouns.
I had a strange feeling. It was a great experience. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

b) in front of names of professions, nationality groups and religious groups.
She is a dentist. He is a Moslem. His brother is an American (‘amerikaner’), but He is
American (‘amerikansk’).

c) in a number of expressions of speed, frequency, amount and price and in many fixed
seventy miles an hour, three times a week, once a year, £50 a night,
to have a headache, to make a speech, to have a temperature, to catch a cold, to take an
interest in, to give it a try, to build a house

The indefinite article is not used in front of uncountable (‘utellelige’) nouns.
What terrible weather! Did he give you any advice? It was shocking news!

CC BY-SASkrevet av Per Lysvåg, Hands On (NKI) og Karin Dwyer Løken.
Sist faglig oppdatert 31.01.2019


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