#1 – Do NOT use a/an with plural or uncountable nouns
- a fact = OK
- a facts = INCORRECT
- an information = INCORRECT
- an advice = INCORRECT
- a piece of advice = OK
(“piece” is countable)
- a pants / a glasses / a scissors = INCORRECT
- a pair of pants/glasses/scissors = OK
(“pair” is countable)
- a rice = INCORRECT
- a grain of rice = OK
(“grain” is countable)
- a work = INCORRECT
- a job / a task / a project = OK
#2 – A/An follows the SOUND, not the LETTER
- a university
(pronounced like you – ni – ver – si – ty)
- an umbrella
(pronounced like um – brel – la)
- a hat
(h is not silent)
- an hour
(h is silent)
- an X-ray
(pronounced like ex – ray)
- an NGO
(pronounced like en – gee – oh)
- a non-governmental organization
(when we say the full words, they start with the N sound)
#3 – Do NOT use a/an without a noun following it
- I am a Japanese. = INCORRECT
(“Japanese” is an adjective, not a noun)
- I am Japanese. = OK
- He is an intelligent. = INCORRECT
(“intelligent” is an adjective, not a noun)
- He is intelligent. = OK
- He is an intelligent man. = OK
(now it’s OK because we have the noun “man” after “an intelligent”)
#4 – THE can be used for singular/plural, and for countable/uncountable nouns, when talking about something specific (not general)
- I love pasta.
- I love the pasta at that restaurant.
- That store sells furniture.
- The furniture in my living room is all new.
- Vegetables are good for you.
- The vegetables at the market are always fresh.
- I need advice.
- The advice you gave me was very helpful.
#5 – Do NOT use THE for proper nouns:
Names of continents/countries*/states/cities/streets:
- We’re traveling around Asia for three months.
- I’d like to visit Russia.
- Paris is my favorite city in Europe.
- Have you ever been to California?
- They live on Rosewood Avenue.
*Exceptions: the United States (the U.S.), the United Kingdom (the U.K.), the Philippines, the Czech Republic, the Central African Republic, the Marshall Islands
Companies & Universities*
- My uncle works at Samsung.
- Microsoft reported high profits this quarter.
- She graduated from Harvard.
- New York University is very large.
*Exceptions: If the university’s name BEGINS with “university,” then use “the”:
the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Miami
Languages & Holidays
- I’m studying Spanish.
- He speaks Italian.
- My whole family gets together at Christmas.
- The office will be closed on New Year’s Day.
#6 – With other places, THE is sometimes used:
Do NOT use THE with individual lakes or mountains:
- Mount Everest is the highest mountain the world.
- We went sailing on Lake Ontario.
Use THE with oceans, rivers, valleys, deserts, mountain ranges, points on globe:
- the Pacific Ocean
- the Amazon River
- the San Fernando Valley
- the Sahara Desert
- the Swiss Alps, the Rocky Mountains
- the North/South Pole, the Equator
Do NOT use THE with the following places:
- I’m going home.
- She’s at work.
- He’s in jail.
- We attend church.
- My kids went to bed.
- My brother’s in high school.
- My sister’s in college.
Use THE with the following places:
- I went to the bank.
- Let’s go to the movies.
- He gets home from the office around 7.
- My grandfather’s in the hospital.
- I’ll stop by the post office after lunch.
- I caught a taxi to the airport.
- I’ll pick you up at the train station.
- We’re waiting at the bus stop.
- We took my son to the doctor.
- I’m going to the dentist this afternoon.
(in this case, “the doctor” and “the dentist” are short for “the doctor’s office” and “the dentist’s office”)