San Jose City College

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Articles and Other Determiners

Writers make article and determiner errors when they use an article or determiner unnecessarily, fail to use one when necessary, use the wrong article or determiner, or use an article or determiner that does not agree in number with the noun.

Indefinite Articles:
A | AN
The Definite Article: THE Zero Article Other Determiners

A + singular indefinite count noun   [ExamplesAny singular count noun must be preceded by an article or some other determiner.

Use the indefinite article a before a singular indefinite (nonspecific) count noun that begins with a consonant sound.

   A) I need a pen. Do you have one I could borrow?
   B) I have a pencil. Will that do?

Note that the speakers are not referring to a specific pen or pencil. Any one will do.


AN + indefinite count noun beginning with a vowel sound [ExamplesUse AN before an indefinite noun or noun phrase beginning with a vowel sound:
    an honor student
    an honest man
    an award

Some words look like they begin with a vowel sound but actually begin with the /y/ sound as in you or your. Use the article a before these nouns:
    a university
    a union
    a European student
    a euphemism

A/AN + generic noun [ExamplesThe indefinite article is also used to make general statements, i.e., before generic nouns that refer to any member of a class:

    A flashlight is a useful tool to have in emergencies.
    A cell phone is even more useful.

Remember that generic nouns do not refer to any item in particular. The statment is made about any item in the class named by the noun. [A/AN + generic noun is just one of three ways to generalize. The other two ways are covered under the definite article and zero article.]

THE + singular or plural definite noun   [ExamplesA noun becomes definite the second time it is mentioned:

    A toad hopped into the road.
    A boy on a bicycle ran over the toad and squished it.

THE + a limited noun   [Examples]A noun is limited when a modifying adjective phrase or clause follows it.

     The boy who ran over the toad felt weird.
     The boy riding with him laughed.
     The toad in the road was dead.

THE + a unique noun [ExamplesUse the definite article when the noun refers to something unique:
    the sun, the moon, the stars
    the government, the budget, the deficit

THE + a generic noun  [Examples]Use the definite article to generalize with a singular generic noun:
    The fox is a sly animal. (any fox rather than one in particular)
    The elephant has been hunted for ivory. (any elephant rather than one in particular)

Whenever you can say any or all foxes or any or all elephants, you know the noun is generic.

THE + geographical nouns [Examples Use the definite article before geographical names and regions:
    the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean
    The Amazon, the Yellow River, the Nile
    the East, the West, the North, the South
    the South Pole, the North Pole, the Equator
    The Sierras, the Himalayas, the Rockies
    the Bay, the Gulf, the Delta

THE + a specific ethnic group [ExamplesUse the definite article to refer to specific ethnic designations:

    the Mexicans
    the Ethiopians
    The Eritreans
    the Sudanese

No article is used before generic plural nouns and noncount nouns.    [ExamplesGeneric plural nouns refer to all members of a class and are used to make generalizations. No article is used before a generic plural noun. Note the example sentences.

    Teachers should prepare their classes.
    Students should do their homework.
    Children should respect their parents and teachers.
    Businessmen should be honest.
    Government leaders should promote peace.

Generic noncount nouns also have no article.
    Violent crime is on the rise in Venezuela.
    The president has paid little attention to public order but has subsidized food, health care, and literacy.

No article is used before proper nouns unless the is part of the title.   [ExamplesProper nouns generally do not take an article unless it is part of the title:

   Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, but the United States and the Philippines
   Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, Lake Superior but the Great Lakes
   Mount Shasta, Mount Hamilton, Mount Everest, but the Rockies

No article is used before the names of academic subjects, sports, or languages
 [ExamplesNo article is used before nouns that name academic subjects:
   Ana is studying Spanish literature.
   She excels in mathematics.
   John likes to study music.

   Reggie plays baseball.   
   Malinda likes volleyball.
   Michael plays tennis.

   Pat speaks English and six other languages.
   Sabri speaks Arabic, French, and English fluently.
   Do you want to study Mandarin?

Demonstrative Pronouns [Examples]
Demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative (adj) determiners must agree in number with their referent:

    this college, that student
    these teachers, those administrators

Possessive determiners [ExamplesPossessive determiners are the possessive adjectival forms that specify ownership [something belongs to someone] or the idea of membership in something [his 4-H club]:
   my computer
   your desktop
   his technology class
   our grades
   their achievement

Quantifiers  [ExamplesQuantifiers specify an indefinite amount [noncount nouns] or number:
   too much water
   too little milk
   a lot of salt
   some pepper
   many doctors
   most patients
   several medical tests
   a few nurses
   too few technicians

Cardinal numbers  [Examples]Cardinal numbers also function as determiners:
    one box
    two boxes
    fifty containers
    three cargo ships

Ordinal numbers and superlatives  [ExamplesOrdinal numbers show order in a series and are preceded by the definite article:

    the first grade
    the second grade
    the first time
    the next time
    the last time

The definite article is required for all superlative adjective+noun combinations as the superlative makes the noun unique in some way.

    The most amazing city in the world is San Francisco.
    The widest street in San Josť is University Avenue.
Practice 1 Practice 2 Practice 3 Edit Student Writing Samples


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