Indefinite Articles

Did you know that in some languages there are different articles for masculine and feminine nouns? In English, however, we only have two types of articles. Let us learn about indefinite articles and their correct use in English grammar.

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Indefinite Articles

There are only two articles in the English language. They are “A” and “An”. Both of these are the forms of indefinite articles. ‘A’ is used when the following noun starts with a consonant, while we use ‘an’ when the noun that follows starts with a vowel.

For example, “He was walking down the road when a cat came out of nowhere” and “He was walking down the street when an owl came out of nowhere”. There are some exceptions to the rule which we will cover later.

Again as you notice, we use indefinite articles when we are talking about something non-specific. In the above examples, you will see a cat and an owl was being talked about. Not some particular owl or cat, but any cat or owl in general.

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A and An Exceptions

We know the general rule, that we use an ‘a’ if the noun following the article starts with a consonant and ‘an’ when the noun starts with a vowel. But there are a few exceptions to the rule we must know about.

If the word that follows starts with a consonant, but we pronounce it as a vowel, then we will use ‘an’. Say for example the word honest. It starts with a consonant, but the h in the word is silent and the pronunciation begins with a vowel. So we use ‘an’ before it. Example- It was an honest mistake.

Similarly, if a word starts with a vowel but pronounced as a consonant, we will use ‘a’ and not ‘an’. Example- He is a United States citizen is the correct sentence. We will use ‘a’ and not ‘an’.

Indefinite Articles

Indefinite Articles and Uncountable Nouns

Another factor to remember, indefinite articles are only used with singular nouns. For plural nouns, we always used a definite article if necessary. i.e. “the”.

The rule also applies to uncountable nouns. Uncountable nouns are anything we cannot tally to a certain number. It can be an intangible thing or anything that is too large or ambiguous to be counted. Let us see a few examples

  • Pass me a water. (Incorrect sentence, water is an uncountable noun)
  • Can you pass me a glass of water (Correct, because a glass of water is countable)

However, there are certain nouns which are both uncountable, like for example hair, light, noise etc. These can be written both with and without an indefinite article. For example “He heard a noise coming from the other room” is a correct sentence. And so is “There was a lot of noise coming from the other room”

Solved Questions for You

Q: Fill in the blank with an appropriate article with the help of the hint in the bracket:

To our right, was____ marshy pond. (You are referring to this pond for the first time).

  1. the
  2. an
  3. a
  4. no article required

Ans:¬†Since we are referring to the pond for the first time, therefore, ‘a’ will be used for the pond. Had it been a pond which we had mentioned previously, then the answer would have been ‘the’ as in this case, we would be referring to a specific pond. Therefore, the answer is ‘a’, i.e., option C. Also an is not used since the noun starts with a consonant.

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