Articles in English grammar can be confusing.
To be right 99% of the time, start at the top and follow this diagram:
“Specific” means that both people know which noun.
“General” means that only one person, or neither person knows which noun.
Nouns are specific if:
If a countable/uncountable noun is specific, use THE.
If a countable noun is not specific, use A.
If an uncountable noun is not specific, use NO ARTICLE.
Imagine two people are having a conversation about a cat.
If both people know which cat they are talking about, they say the cat. (a specific cat)
If only one person knows which cat they are talking about, they say a cat. (not a specific cat)
If neither of them knows which cat they are talking about, they say a cat. (not a specific cat)
Decide if we should say “A”, “The” or “No article” for each of these examples. If you’re not sure, click the picture – you’ll see a video which will explain the answer.
The answers are at the bottom of the page.
In each space, choose a or the.
A: Hey, I heard you got attacked by _______ tiger on holiday. Are you OK?
B: Yeh, I’m OK – I used my karate skills.
A: I bought ________ new cat at the weekend.
B: Oh really? What kind of cat?
A: Did you hear about the woman who wants to become ______ fattest person in the world?
B: Yeh, she’s crazy.
A: Did you bring ______ book I asked you about?
B: Sure, it’s right here.
A: Oh wow – what happened to your hair?
B: I went to _______ crazy hairdresser when I was on holiday in Portugal.
A: I went to ______ cool restaurant last night.
B: Oh yeh? Which one?
A: I didn’t sleep well last night because my cat brought ______ bird into ______ bed.
B: Sounds like a nice present.
A: She was _______ tallest person in her class at high school.
B: I guess she’s always been tall.
A: Last night I went to ________ restaurant, tripped over ________ table and fell into ________ group of businessmen.
B: Haha I wish I had seen that!
A: Do you remember when Michael went to ________ restaurant, tripped over ______ table and fell into _______ group of businessmen?
B: Haha of course – I’m so happy I saw it happen!
1 – a because the first person only heard about the tiger attack. They don’t know exactly which tiger.
2 – a because the second person doesn’t know which kind of cat.
3 – the because “fattest” is a superlative. Superlatives (biggest, fattest, smallest) mean there is only one, so both people know which person.
4 – the because both people know which book they are talking about
5 – a because the first person doesn’t know exactly which hairdresser.
6 – a because the second person asks which one.
7 – a, the because the second person doesn’t know which bird, but they can guess which bed (the first person’s bed)
8 – the because “tallest” is a superlative. Superlatives (biggest, fattest, smallest) mean there is only one, so both people know which person.
9 – a, a, a because the second person was not at the restaurant, so they don’t know which restaurant, which table or which group of businessmen.
10 – the, the, the because the second person was at the restaurant, so they know which restaurant, which table and which group of businessmen.
Check out my YouTube videos for more examples: