In part 3 of the English Articles Tutorial, we finish up our list of 25 articles usage tips. Here, we take a look at some of the exceptions and more advanced topics relating to the use of A(AN) and THE.
A(AN) can be used like the word "per".
Apples currently cost $1.30 a pound.
Cheetahs can run 60 miles an hour.
You want $150 a person for the tour?
Use THE with nouns modified by ranking or ordering expressions such as "the first", "the second", "the third", "the next", "the last", "the previous", "the following", "the penultimate", etc.
This is the fifth day of our conference.
I'll pay the next time we have dinner.
Don't forget the following rule.
Use THE with superlatives such as "the best", "the biggest", "the most important", "the least interesting", etc.
This is the best day ever.
That is the most expensive hotel room I've ever heard of in my life.
He told the funniest joke!
Comparative forms, such as "bigger", "better", "more" can be used with both A(AN) and THE and follow general article usage.
I like the bigger roller coaster.
He has a more expensive car than I do.
HOWEVER: THE is often used with comparative forms (bigger) rather than superlative forms (biggest) when comparing only two things. This is commonly used in phrases such as "the bigger of the two".
Jessie and Shauna are both smart. But I think Shauna is the smarter of the two.
Between Jason's son and his daughter, his daughter is the better athlete.
English speakers often use THE plus a singular noun when they talk about or make generalizations about certain topics, including:
musical instruments (the piano, the guitar, the flute)
plants (the coconut palm, the saguaro, the baobab)
animals (the leopard, the elephant, the lowland gorilla)
inventions (the steam engine, the plane, the light bulb)
currencies (the dollar, the euro, the yen)
body parts (the head, the eye, the ear)
I play the piano.
The sequoia tree is native to California.
The dolphin is a very intelligent animal.
The Wright brothers invented the airplane.
Right now, the euro is stronger than the dollar.
Cheryl got poked in the eye.
In general, English speakers choose to use THE in this way to give the noun a more abstract or conceptual sound. We choose to say "the piano" to make it sound more like an abstract art form. Similarly, "the dolphin" sounds more like we are referring to the species. Moreover, "the plane" has a more conceptual sound that conveys the idea of invention. But remember, you can also make generalizations about these topics using plurals as in USE 15.
The expressions "a few" and "a little" mean "some" and express the idea that you have more than expected.
He always carries a few dollars for emergencies.
He had a little difficulty with his homework.
She has a few friends who can help her move.
HOWEVER: The expressions "few" and "little" (without an article) mean "not much" and express the idea that you have less than expected.
Unfortunately, I had little time to enjoy New York because I had to work so much.
Sadly, he has few people in his life.
They have little money, so their daughter cannot pay her tuition.
BUT REMEMBER: When the words "only" or "just" are used, "a few" and "a little" also emphasize the meaning "not much".
Unfortunately, I only had a little time to enjoy New York because I had to work so much.
Sadly, he just has a few people in his life.
They only have a little money, so their daughter cannot pay her tuition.
Generally, articles are not used with the names of illnesses or diseases.
Dr. Smith visits schools and universities to educate students on AIDS.
Oncologists are doctors who specialize in treating cancer.
There are several medications that can be used to treat malaria.
HOWEVER: There are some illnesses which require THE.
the bubonic plague
MOREOVER: There are a few health conditions or illnesses which can be used with both A(AN) as well as THE and follow general article use. This category includes most aches, pains, growths, and attacks.
a heart attack
a wart / tumor / growth / etc.
a sore throat / sore back/ sore foot / etc.
a headache / toothache / backache / etc.
REMEMBER: This last category follows general article use. Study the examples below.
John has a cold. The cold was pretty bad.
Nancy had a heart attack. The heart attack seriously weakened her heart.
Deb had a sore throat. The sore throat made it hard to talk.
If a direction (north, west, southeast, left, right) directly follows a verb, do not use an article with the direction.
We need to walk south.
They drove north all day.
At the stop sign, turn left and walk three blocks.
HOWEVER: If a direction follows a preposition, you must use THE.
We need to walk to the south.
Our house is in the north.
The grocery store is on the right.
MOREOVER: Use THE with compass directions when referring to them as special geographic or cultural regions.
We love the South.
Have you ever visited the East?
The West has better national parks.
THE can be used with plural family names to refer to the family as a group.
The Robinsons love to vacation in Florida.
The Shinoharas are originally from Japan.
My brother lives next door to the Jacksons.
THE can be combined with certain adjectives to refer to a group of people such as "the blind", "the elderly", "the rich", "the French", "the Sioux", etc.
He is elderly. Adjective
The organization helps the elderly. Elderly people
REMEMBER: This is especially important in situations where nationalities or ethnic groups and their languages might be confused. In such situations, THE is used to specify that we are talking about the nationality or ethnic group rather than the language.
I like French. Language
I like the French. The French people
HOWEVER: When generalizing about nationalities or ethnic groups that end in "-ans", such as "Americans", "Mexicans", and "Hawaiians", THE is not usually used.
Americans watch a lot of TV.
Germans drink a lot of beer.
Do not use THE with the names of most countries unless the name contains a word such as "States", "Kingdom", "Republic", "Emirates", "Union", "Coast", etc.
I love Italy.
John used to live in Japan.
He lives in the United States.
SIMILARLY: Don't use THE with states, provinces, and cities unless THE is specifically part of the name or contains a word such as "Territory" or "Coast".
He lives in California.
Ladakh is in India.
The Northwest Territories is a province in Canada.
EXCEPTIONS: THE is used with "the Netherlands" as well as with many nations which are island chains, such as "the Philippines", "the Maldives", "the Bahamas", etc. Additionally, in the past, THE was used with certain countries such as "the Sudan", "the Gambia", and "the Congo"; this usage is becoming less common.
He lives in the Netherlands.
I visited the Bahamas last year.
Use THE with the names of:
collections of lakes (such as the Great Lakes)
references on the globe (such as the Equator, the North Pole)
geographic regions (such as the Northwest, the Middle East)
bridges (except Tower Bridge)
the Sun, the Moon
extraordinary works of art or architecture (such as the Mona Lisa, the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal)
James visited the Hermitage, a famous museum in St. Petersburg.