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ESL/EFL Glossary: A Guide to applied linguistics terminology.


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articles: English language has both indefinite (a/an/some) and definite (the) articles. Articles are one of the first parts of speech introduced to learners but one of the last to be acquired. The evidence suggests that articles cannot be taught, but are acquired over a long period of time. Part of the problem is that in English there are so many exceptions to the one basic rule.

The basic rule is that when a noun is introduced, we use a/an and thereafter we use the. For example,

        I saw a cat. The cat was black. The cat was eating a fish.         The fish was rotten so the cat died.  

The first time cat and fish are introduced we use a and all of the times after we use the because it is understood which cat and which fish we are talking about. The definite articles are used anytime it is understood which noun we are talking about. This rule suggests that articles cannot be taught in the context of which words take which articles, because the same noun can take both articles in the same paragraph. The exceptions to this basic rule are numerous:

    (1) If there is only one of the noun (so it is implicitly           understood already which one you are talking           about),use the:

        The sun, the moon, the king of England.

    (2) Some abstract nouns don't take articles.

        TV, Church, School

        I went to school embodies more than just going to the         building. It includes teachers and instruction and all else         that happens at the school, and so it is abstract.

    (3) Proper Nouns:

        New York, David, 5th avenue.