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Indefinite Articles

In this lesson of learning English as a second language, we shall learn:

  1. The right way of using Indefinite Articles (a , an)

In Unit 1 Verb to be we learnt very basic thing about how to use A or An. The thing I told you about using indefinite articles in that unit was that, indefinite articles are always used before a noun and it has to be a singular noun. In this lesson we are going to learn in depth about the application of indefinite articles.

Video Tutorial in English

Video Tutorial in Urdu

There are two kinds of Article:

  1. Indefinite Articles (A, An)
  2. Definite Article (The.

Articles are actually adjectives because they do the work of an adjective. You know that an adjective is a word that defines a noun. Articles do the same thing they give us more information about a noun.

 For example :

If you say  A boy  it means 1 boy so here A =1  likewise, An orange = 1 orange , so in these examples  A and An are working as adjectives of number. Well our topic is not adjectives; I just wanted to tell you that Articles are basically adjectives.

Conditions for the application of Indefinite Articles:

  1. A noun must be singular.
  2. A noun must be common.
  3. A noun must be countable.

Before using indefinite article before a noun, you must keep the above mentioned conditions in your mind. If a noun has only one, or two of the above conditions, you can never use indefinite article before that noun. So for the application of an indefinite article, a noun must possess these three conditions.

For Example:

  1. Boys  ( You can not use any indefinite article with this word, although  the word is common and countable but not singular. It possesses two conditions but it is not singular)
  2. Sand ( You can not use any indefinite article with this word, although the word is common but not countable)
  3. Girl  (You can use an indefinite article with this word because it possesses all three conditions required for the application of an indefinite article before it)

Where to use A and Where to use An:

Above I explained the conditions for the application of indefinite articles. I did not tell you which noun takes (A) and which noun takes (An) before it. Now I will explain the real method of applying A and An. You may think that you already know it and it is a child's stuff, think again. You may have been taught at school, that if a noun begins with a Vowel, use (An) before that noun and if a noun begins with a Consonant, use (A) before that noun. Well I taught the same thing in Unit 1 but fairly speaking this method is to teach little children. The real idea behind using A or An is not the spelling of a word and if it starts with a Vowel or a Consonant.

The real method of finding if you should be using (A) or (An) is Pronunciation. It is a sound based rule and not the spelling based rule. If the initial sound of a word is pronounced directly from the throat, it is supposed to be a Vowel Sound and you should be using (An) before that noun.

For Example:

  1. Orange   (An orange)  (The initial sound of this word directly comes from your throat, it means that you do not use your lips, or tongue to make this sound. The initial sound is a Vowel Sound, that is why we use An before orange)
  2. Apple (An apple)  (The initial sound of this word directly comes from your throat, it means that you do not use your lips, or tongue to make this sound. The initial sound is a Vowel Sound, that is why we use An before apple)

If the initial sound of a word is not produced from the throat and is produced using lips or tongue, it is supposed to be a Consonant Sound and you should be using (A) before that noun.

For Example:

  1. Boy  (A boy)  (When you pronounce this word the initial sound does not come from the throat, but it is produced using the lips. So the initial sound is a Consonant Sound, that is why we use A before boy)
  2. Chair ( A chair) (When you pronounce this word the initial sound does not come from the throat, but it is produced using the tongue. So the initial sound is a Consonant Sound, that is why we use A before Chair)

A few more Examples :

  1. University  ( A university) ( Although this word starts from a Vowel but the initial sound is not a Vowel Sound, it is a Consonant Sound (yoo- nu- ver- si -ty), here if we use (An) it would be entirely wrong.
  2. European (A European)  ( Although this word starts from a Vowel but the initial sound is not a Vowel Sound, it is a Consonant Sound. (yo -ro -pee- un)

Note: You need to learn Phonemic Symbols in order to pronounce words correctly.

Now you might think that the sound is coming from the throat, which is quite normal with the beginners. To solve this confusion I want you to pronounce Orange and then European. You will feel that the difference in the pronunciation and the initial sound of both of the words. Try to pronounce University and Umbrella. You can easily feel the difference among the two.

An Adjective before a Noun:

There may be times when you see an adjective before a noun while reading or you use an adjective before a noun while talking. Whatever you may be doing, reading , writing or speaking. I want to highlight a point here that what will you do if there is an adjective before a noun? Where will you use an article before the adjective or after the adjective.

For Example:

  1. Tall boy  ( Tall = Adjective) (Boy = Noun)  In this example you have an adjective before a noun, whenever you have an adjective before a noun, use an article before the adjective. So in this example it will be (A tall boy)

Another important thing to remember is that when there is an adjective before a noun and that noun meets all the conditions for the application of Indefinite Article, you will not focus the initial sound of the noun but the adjective.

For Example:

1.      An ugly girl (Ugly = Adjective) ( Girl = Noun)  In this example you can see that an adjective (ugly) qualifies a noun (girl). You know that the noun (girl) is common , singular and countable, which means that it meets all the conditions and we can and must use an Indefinite Article before it . We also know that whatever the article we use it will be placed before the adjective (ugly) but we will not focus the initial sound of the noun (girl), we will focus the initial sound of the adjective (ugly). So it will be  (An ugly girl ) if you say A ugly girl, focusing the initial sound of the noun (girl)  that would be completely wrong.

That's all in this unit. I hope you understood all of it and still if you have any problems you can easily contact me regarding the topic.

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