Definite? Indefinite? Zero?
What’s wrong with this sentence? “The Bristol is the kindest city in the UK.”* You guessed it – there are too many definite articles in it! It should be: “Bristol is the best city in the UK.” But what are the rules? Are there even any rules? As a matter of fact there are, and if you keep reading you’ll find answers to one of the hardest things in English Grammar: Articles – definite articles (the), indefinite articles (a/an), and zero articles (because sometimes we don’t need an article at all!).
Did you know TEG English has four branches in four different cities? They are, in alphabetical order, Bristol, Cardiff, Portsmouth and Southampton.
- The rule: we don’t use articles in front of names of cities!
English is spoken in many countries in the world, such as Canada, Australia, the UK, the USA, the Republic of South Africa.
- The rule: if the name of a country is just one word, there’s no article. If the name is plural (like the Netherlands) or includes words such as “republic”, “kingdom”, “states” or “emirates”, we use the definite article.
These countries are of, course, located on different continents – Europe, North America, Africa and so on.
- The rule: no article with names of continents.
To travel from one continent to another you might have to cross rivers (the Nile), seas (the Baltic Sea) and oceans (the Pacific Ocean), or fly over mountain chains (the Himalayas) and island chains (the Bahamas).
- The rule: rivers, seas, oceans, mountain chains and island chains all require the definite article.
Do you know what TEG stands for? It’s short for Tompkins Educational Group, after the owner David Tompkins.
- The rule: We don’t use articles in front of names and surnames, but names of companies, music bands or products sometimes have definite articles! It depends on people who have named them, so it’s better to check the correct use, for example on their websites or social media.
Specific or unique
What the difference between a classroom and a school? Well, there’s usually only one teacher in the classroom, but the school is full of them. This is why we say:
“If you have a question during the lesson, ask the teacher.”,
but “If you have a question during the break, ask a teacher – any of them will be happy to help!”
- The rule: if a person or thing is specific or unique, we use the definite article. If the person or thing is one of many and not specific, we use the indefinite article.
And if you ask our teachers why they enjoy teaching, they’re likely to say that they have the best job in the world, that they work with the nicest people, and that it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do!
- The rule: superlatives are specific and unique too, so we also need to use the definite article in front of them.
Don’t worry if articles are a bit of a mystery to you. Students of all levels and nationalities tend to struggle with them, but hopefully the students who have read this post will be able to use them correctly from now on!
- The rule: for plural nouns with general meaning, use the zero article. For plural nouns with specific meaning, use the definite article.
* According to recent news! https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/business/bristol-named-kindest-city