English : – Rules Pertaining to Usage of Articles

In English
there are two types of articles:

(i)   The Indefinite Articles
(ii)  The Definite Article

The Indefinite Articles : A and An (Please note that ‘An’ is a
variant of ‘A’.)
‘A’ and ‘An’ are to be used with Nouns that are singular.  Singular Nouns
are, To simply put, we can put one, two, … in front of them.
The Definite Article     : The


1. The indefinite article ‘a’ is used before: 
 (a) a word beginning with a letter
having a consonant sound. 

  Examples:  a book, a man, a dinner.

 (b) a word that begins with a letter
(like O) with the sound like ‘wa’ 

 Examples: a one-rupee note, one-eyed man etc.

 (c) a word beginning with ‘u’ or ‘eu’
giving the consonant of ‘yu’.

 Examples: a university,
a European.

2. The indefinite article ‘an’ is used before:
 (a) a word beginning with a letter
like a, e, i, o, u having a vowel sound.

 Examples:  an apple, an
egg,  an umbrella, an idiot, etc.

 (b) a word beginning with ‘h’ but the
pronunciation starts with a vowel.

 Examples: an heir, an hour,
an honest man, etc.

 (c) an abbreviation, the first letter
of which is ‘M’ 

 Examples: an M.L.A., an M.P., an M.Com an S.D.O and F.R.C.S.,
an X-mas gift etc.

We use a or an:
Rule 1:  If noun is singular countable, article must be used. 
John is teacher (Incorrect))
John is a teacher (correct)

Man came to my house yesterday  (Incorrect)
A man came to my house yesterday  

Rule 2:  a or an must be used for noun complement which
includes professions. 

He was great man.  (Incorrect)
He was a great man  

He is actor  
He is an actor  

Rule 2: If we want to say something about speed or price.
I bought these onions Five
rupees kilo.  
I bought these onions Five rupees a kilo  
The speed of the
train is fifty miles hour  
The speed of the train is fifty miles an hour  

Rule 4:  In exclamatory sentence before singular and countable


What a fine sketch!  (Correct)
What a great shot!  

Rule 5:  Before the word ‘most’ when it is used in the sense of very or
much or exceedingly.

Sreedhar is most intelligent student.  (Incorrect)
Sreedhar is a
 intelligent student  

This is most unfortunate event.  
This is a most unfortunate event.  

Rule 6:  Before a singular countable noun which is used as an example
to represent a class.

Cow is useful animal  (Incorrect)
 A cow is useful animal  

: It must be borne in mind that ‘man’ or ‘woman’, when used in a general
sense to represent ‘mankind’ as a whole, never takes are article.

A man is mortal  (Incorrect)
Man is mortal  

A woman is man’s better half  
Woman is man’s better half  

Rule 11:  With the words a
lot of, a couple, a great many, a good deal of, a good many, a great deal of, a
few, a little etc. when they mean ‘Some amount’ and ‘a small

Few books were in the library  (Incorrect)
A few books were in
the library  

Lot of people have attended the party  (Incorrect)

A lot of people have attended the party  (Correct)

Rule 5:  In certain phrases: a cold, a pain, on an average, make a noise, make an effort, make a
mistake, a fever. etc.

I’ve got cold  (Incorrect)

I’ve got a

Rule 6:  With certain numbers : a hundred, a thousand, a
million etc.

Rule 7:  ‘A’ can be used before Mr. / Miss / Mrs. + name
 a Mr. Bose, a Mrs, Bose etc.
Note : A Mr. Bose denotes a person
who is called Bose, and implies that he is a stranger to the speaker.
Mr. Bose, without ‘a’. implies that the speaker knows Mr. Bose, or knows of his

Rule 8:  Before a proper noun to make it a common noun.
Mohan is a Newton of our class  (Incorrect)
Mohan is the Newton of our class  

Rule 9:  Before certain uncountable nouns preceded by nouns + of
 a piece of advice, a bit of news,
a drop of water etc.

Rule 10:
After the words many, rather, such, quite etc in certain structures.
 1. Many a friend of mine is
attending the party.
 2. Such a show cannot be
arranged now.
 3. He is rather a fool to take
such decisions.

A or An is not used before: 

(a) Plural nouns: a books, a universities etc. (Incorrect)

(b) Uncountable nouns: an advices, an information etc. 

(c) Names of meals:
 Let us have a dinner 
 Let us have dinner  

: An indefinite article can be used before names of meals when these are
preceded by an adjective.
 She gave me a good
breakfast at 8 p.m.