Have you ever noticed those small little words that appear before nouns? You know, those words that do not exist in the Croatian language and can be a pain to learn and even to remember to use. They are—a, an and the. What is the point of these words? Why do we use them? What is the difference between them? In short, the words a, an and the are articles that modify a noun. Think of them as a type of adjective used to help describe the noun.
There are two types of articles—indefinite articles and definite articles. A and an are indefinite articles, and are used when referring to something in general. While the is a definite article and is used when referring to something that is specific or particular.
WHEN TO USE A/AN
- a/an is used for all singular countable nouns!
- what kind of thing somebody or something is She is a nice girl.
- what job a person does He is an economist.
- what something is used as The plate is not an ashtray!
- a particular one when without saying who or which. A man called when you were out.
- descriptions He has a loud voice.
- a/an has no plural form! They are doctors. NOT: They are a doctors
- a is used when the noun begins with a consonant sound: a doctor
- an is used when the noun begins with a vowel sound: an elephant
- an is used before words beginning with a silent h: an hour
- a/an is not used with uncountable nouns! NOT: a rice
- a/an is not used with possessives! NOT: a my mother
- a/an is usually used after quite, rather and such: quite/rather/such a beautiful day.
- a/an is not used when describing hair NOT: She has a dark hair.
WHEN TO USE THE
- the is used when you know exactly which one or ones the speaker is talking about.
- the is used in both singular and plural.
- the is not used in generalizations with plural and uncountable nouns. He studies mathematics. NOT: He studies the mathematics.
- the can be used in generalizations with singular countable nouns: I play the guitar.
Using both A and The
As mentioned above, a is used when talking about something in general while the is used when talking about something specific. It is possible to first talk about something in general and then which to talking about something specifically.
- I went to Ikea to buy a chair. The chair I bought was very inexpensive.
Common expressions with no article after a preposition
- to/at/from school/university/college/church/work
- at/from home
- on vacation/on holiday
- at Christmas/at Easter
- on Monday/Tuesday/etc
- to/in(to)/from town
- by car/bus/plane/boat
- at night BUT: in the morning/in the afternoon
Names of languages and nationalities do not have an article, unless you are referring to a population of a nation.
- She speaks English. NOT: She speaks an English or She speaks the English.
- The French are known for their great literature. NOT: French are known for their great literature.
Often it can be hard to hear these words in regular conversations because native speakers tend to link them together with other words. For example, instead of saying, “I would like a cup of coffee,” you hear “I would like acuppa coffee.” Watch the video below for more examples of this:
We went to_a cafe.
The waiter gave me_a menu.
Zagreb has_a wonderful advent.
Here is a short quiz to test your knowledge of the articles a, an and the!
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