Native English speaking students take articles for granted. They know when to use an article and where to use an article. Occasionally, they may run into the problem of whether to use "a" or "an." ESL students, on the other hand, have not had experience with articles. This is a new concept for these students. When you are tutoring an ESL student, make sure that he or she knows what an article is and how to use it.

There are two types of articles:

  1. The definite article "the"
  2. The indefinite article "a" or "an"

Articles are used to mark nouns. A noun may follow immediately after the article, or a modifier may come between the article and the noun.

An article is a noun marker, but not the only noun marker. Other noun markers include:

  1. Possessive nouns (Jack's, mom's)
  2. Numbers (two people)
  3. Pronouns ( her car, your shirt, more money)

In most instances, articles are not used with other noun markers. Exceptions include:

  1. a few papers
  2. all the chairs
  3. the most people

Definite Articles

Use "the" with most nouns whose identity is specific to the reader. If you are unsure if a definite article is necessary, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has the noun been mentioned before?
  • Does a phrase or clause following the noun restrict its identity?
  • Does it have a superlative to make the identity specific?
  • Does the noun describe a unique perosn, place, or thing?
  • Is the noun's identity clear in the text?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then it is necessary to use the definite article "the" before the noun.

***Do not use "the" if a plural or noncount noun means "all" or "in general."


  • Stores get very crowded around Christmas.
  • Kids enjoy going to school when they are young, but they begin to dread going when they are older.

Indefinite Articles

Use "a" or "an " with singular count nouns. Remember, these nouns are indefinite, so the identity cannot be known to the reader.


  • I ate an apple for a snack.
  • I went to a store in the mall to look for a new dress.

***Do not use "a" or "an" with a noncount noun.


  • I need your opinion about what I should do for my project.

No "a" or "an" is necessary before the noncount noun "opinion" because the pronoun "your" acts as the noun marker.

Created by Dana Jones