A, an & the are called articles. They are a set of function words that add to meaning. They occur before nouns.

Articles are of two kinds:
The Definite Article - The
'The' is called the Definite Article because it points out or defines a particular person or thing.
I saw the dentist.
The water in the jug is cold.
The Indefinite Article - a/an
Doest not point out a particular person/thing.
I saw a boy
I bought a book

Use of the Definite Article - 'The'

  • To participate / define a person/thing (E.g. the red pen is his, The book I want is not available)
  • To denote unique things / persons (the sun, the gods)
  • To denote a singular noun to represent a whole class (the dog is a faithful animal)
  • Before names of mountain ranges (the Alps, the Himalayas)
  • Before goups of islands (the West Indies)

  • Note :
    'The' is not used before the name of a single island, mountain (Srilanka, Everest)

  • Before names of oceans and seas (the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea)
  • Before names of rivers (the Ganga)
  • Before names of canals (the Suez Canal)
  • Before names of deserts, forests (the Sahara, the Black forest)
  • Before names of ships, trains, hotels, inns (the Titanic, the Kerala Express, the Mascot Hotel, the Travelers Inn)
  • Before names of newspapers, holy books and reference books (the Hindu, the Ramayana, (but Valmiki's Ramayana) the Cambridge Learner's Dictionary)
  • Before names of countries made up of smaller units and also names which include words like republic and kingdom (the United States, the Republic of India, the United Kingdom)
  • Before govt. depts, banks and establishments (the dept. of Law, the State Bank, the dentist's)
  • With Proper Nouns for specific purpose and specific reference (the India of today, Kalidasa, the Shakespeare of India)
  • Before Proper Nouns qualified by an adjective (the great Caesar)
  • Before adjectives in the Superlative Degree (the cleverest boy)
  • Before words like ultimate, next, last, first, second (She was the last person to arrive)
  • Before musical instruments (I can play the veena)
  • Before an adjective when the noun is understood (the poor are always with us)
  • As an Adverb with Comparatives (the more she gets the more she wants)

  • The Definite Article is omitted before

  • Proper Nouns viz names of people (Meera), continents (Europe), countries (India), cities (Delhi)
  • Names of substances used in a general sense: gold is a precious metal (but the is used when a particular kind of substance is referred to - the gold in India is of a good quality)
  • Names of meals : lunch will be ready at 12 o'clock (but the is used when the meal is specified - the dinner at the Taj Hotel)
  • Names of games : I like cricket
  • Name of languages : I speak English (but when the speech of someone is specified the is used - The English she speaks)
  • Names of Festivals: Diwali, Christmas
  • School, college, university, church, bed, hospital, prison when these places are visited/used for their primary purpose: she goes to bed at 10 o'clock (but the is used when the reference is merely to the building - she met him at the church, I went to the hospital to see my friend)
  • Before names of relations, like father, mother, aunt, uncle : mother has gone out
  • Before predicative nouns denoting a position normally held at one time by one person only (she became Principal of the college in 2016, he was elected chairman of the Board)
  • Before institutions named after persons and places (Lord Krishna Bank, Oxford University)
  • Idiomatic expressions (at sea, at dawn, at daybreak, at noon, at sunset, at sight, at home, at dinner, at ease, at night, by day, by night, by train, by hand, on foot in fun, in hand, in debt, on earth, by train)
  • In certain phrases (to catch fire, to send word, to set sail, to lose heart, to leave home)

  • The Indefinite Article 'a' is used

  • Before a word beginning with a consonantal sound (a bat, a pen)
  • Before words which have consonantal sounds but begin with vowel letters (a European, a one-rupee note, a university, a yard, a year, a union)

  • The Indefinite Article 'an' is used

  • Before words beginning with a vovel sounds (an egg, an arm)
  • Before words with silent (an hour, an heir, an honest girl)
  • Before abbreviations pronounced with a vowel sound (an MP, an MLA, an MA, an LD Clerk)

  • A/an is used

  • Before a Singular Countable Noun(a man, an orange)
  • In the sense of one (it took me an hour to get here, he gets a salary of Rs. 10000 a month)
  • After such/so when applied to Countable Nouns (I have never worn such a dress)
  • To refer to persons who are strangers to the speaker (a Miss Menon came here to see me)
  • When a Proper Noun is treated as a Common Noun (He is an Einstein)
  • When two different things/persons are meant, the Article is repeated (I have a black and a red saree (but when two or more adjectives qualify the same noun the article is used before the first adjective only - a black and red saree meaning a sari which is partly black and partly red)