Category: Basic Rules – Learn English Online

Hello and welcome. In this lesson, I will teach you the seven rules that you need to know for using articles in English correctly for Basic Rules. Articles are the words ‘a’, ‘an’, and ‘the’. There is a final quiz at the end of the lesson for you to test your understanding. OK, the first rule is about where to use ‘a’ and where to use ‘an’. So rule number one is use ‘a’ before a consonant sound, and ‘an’ before a vowel sound. So in all of these words – you see that they start with a consonant sound. Cat starts with /k/, dog starts with /d/, boy with /b/, girl with /g/, house with /h/ and tree with /t/. So we say ‘a cat’, ‘a dog’, ‘a boy’, ‘a girl’, ‘a house’, ‘a tree’ etc. Notice that in natural speech, we don’t say ‘a’, we say ‘uh’ – like ‘a cat’. In this next set of words, you see that, they all start with a vowel sound – apple starts with /ae/, engineer starts with /e/, ice-cream with /ai/, old with /o/, umbrella with /uh/. So we say ‘an apple’, ‘an engineer’, ‘an ice-cream cone’, ‘an old womman’, ‘an umbrella’ and so on. In speech, we don’t say ‘an’, we say /ən/. Let’s do a small exercise. You see ten items on the screen. For each one, I want you to say if you would use ‘a’ or ‘an’ before it. Stop the video, think about it, then play the video again and check. OK here are the answers. Did you get them all right? I want to focus on items number seven to ten because these are a little tricky. Number seven is ‘a university’ because even though ‘university’ starts with the letter ‘u’ the first sound of the word is not a vowel sound. We don’t say /ooniversity/. We say /yoo-nə- vər-si-ty/ so that first sound is a /y/ sound, which a consonant sound, so we say ‘a university.’ Number eight is similar. The word ‘European’ starts with a /y/ sound, so ‘a European tour.’ In number nine, the spelling has an ‘h’ at the start but that ‘h’ is silent. We don’t say /hau-ər/, we say /au-ər/. The first sound is an /au/ sound which is a vowel sound, so this is ‘an hour’. In the same way, in number ten, we say MA. ‘M’ starts with an /e/ sound which is again a vowel sound, so ‘an MA in English’. OK let’s move on to rule number two: Use ‘a’ and ‘an’ ONLY with singular, countable nouns. We say that a noun is countable if we can count it – one, two, three, four etc. All of these words on the screen are countable. We can say one elephant, three cars, ten teachers, five hundred onions and so on. Now if you talk about one person or thing, like one elephant or one car, then that’s called a singular noun and if you say ten teachers or five hundred onions, those are called plural nouns. Uncountable nouns cannot be counted in this way. Nouns like water, sugar, milk, love, anger, knowledge are some examples. If you think about it, you cannot say “I drank four waters” or “I want eight milks”. To a person, you can say “I love you” but you can’t say “I have five loves for you” – that doesn’t make any sense. So these are all uncountable. Alright, so the rule is – you can only use ‘a’ and ‘an’ if you’re talking about one person or one thing. Let’s do another quick exercise. Here are ten items again. This time, you see ‘a’ or ‘an’ before the nouns, but some of these are wrong. They should NOT have ‘a’ or ‘an’ before them. Stop the video, identify the mistakes, then play the video again and check. OK, here are the answers. Number three is wrong because ‘shirts’ is a plural and you cannot use ‘a’ or ‘an’ before a plural noun. Number five is wrong because ‘happiness’ is uncountable, so again, ‘a’ or ‘an’ cannot be used there. The same goes for number six – water is uncountable. Number nine is wrong because ‘doctors’ is a plural – you can say ‘a doctor’ but not ‘a doctors’. And finally, in number ten, advice is an uncountable noun – so you cannot ask for ‘an advice’. Now a quick note here: the article ‘the’ can be used with all kinds of nouns – singular or plural countable nouns, and uncountable nouns. OK, so let’s now talk about how to choose between ‘a’ or ‘an’ and ‘the’. Here’s rule number three: Use ‘a’ or ‘an’ to talk about a person or thing unknown to your listener. And use ‘the’ to talk about a person or thing known to your listener. For example, “My sister has two computers: a PC and a laptop. The PC is quite old but the laptop is brand new.” I say ‘a PC’ and ‘a laptop’ because that’s the first time I’m mentioning the two computers. That is, until this point, they are unknown to you, the listener.

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