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by Ms. Tracy Yun, Manhattan Review | March 10, 2009


There are no hard and fast rules about how to use articles accurately. During the editing process of a student's essays, correcting these finer grammatical points is often required. For many, it can be confusing and frustrating to try to discern when and when not to use these articles. To help you to write better and improve your grammar, we've summarized some basic rules about articles for your easy reference.

#1. No article is necessary before an uncountable noun which is used in an indefinite sense, i.e., in a non-unique, non-specific and non-defined way.
Example: Some people prefer water to coffee every morning.

"The" is necessary before an uncountable noun which is used in a definite sense.
Example: The water in this town is famous for its purity.

Never use "a" or "an" before an uncountable noun.
Example (incorrect): a happiness

#2. No article is necessary before a plural noun which is used in an indefinite sense.
Example A: Do you have siblings?
Example B: There are stars in the sky.

#3. No article is necessary before the names of streets, avenues, roads, lanes, or boulevard.
Example: I live on Eighth Ave. We are at Main Street.

#4. No "the" is necessary after some, most, all, many, much, and there is/are. But "the" is necessary if preceded by some of, most of, all of, many of, much of. Prepositional phrases with "of" makes a noun definite. Therefore "the" is used.
Example: Many people showed up yesterday. Many of the people I know showed up yesterday.

Final notes:

#1. Depending on the phrase and the meaning, the same noun can be countable in some situations and uncountable in others.
Example A: Our helicopter is running out of fuel. Gas is a fuel made from petroleum.
Example B: My sister loves cheese. Brie is a soft and rich French cheese.
Example C: Time is precious. We had a wonderful time at the holiday party.

#2. Indefinite use of noun includes the following situations: a) The noun was used as a generic reference; b) The noun was not mentioned before in the context; c) The noun was not known to the speaker as a particular item; d) The noun was not part of a phrase; and e) The noun was not defined by a phrase or clause.

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