Common Errors in English: A, AN, THE

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Today we’ll learn some common mistakes with the words a, an, and the.

These are some of the most frequently used words, so you want to be sure you’re using them correctly. I’ll teach you about 5 mistakes English learners often make.

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When you learn how to avoid mistakes, then you can speak and write more confidently!

Common Errors in English: A, AN, THE Espresso English

#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

Click here to review countable and uncountable nouns

#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.

Another English error to avoid: mixing up YOUR and YOU’RE

Fix your English errors FAST:

Common Errors in English: A, AN, THE Espresso English

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