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Did you know that the articles A, An, and The are actually ADJECTIVES?

It makes sense when you think about adjective is a word that describes a noun, and these three gems tell us more about the specific noun.

They are sometimes just called articles or noun markers, but they indeed are adjectives!

There are two types of article adjectives: definite and indefinite.

Fast Fact! These three - a, an, & the - are used more than ANY OTHER ADJECTIVE! (Lucky for you, they are EASY to memorize for diagramming sentences or identifying parts - there are only 3!)

A or An?

A and An are indefinite articles and essentially the same word, but are used in different ways in order to help us to pronounce words easier. Indefinite means that it shows something not specific.

They can be used directly in front of a singular, countable noun or another adjective. (You can’t say “a lions” or “an elephants.”)

However, it depends what type of letter the next word begins with...

A An
Used before a consonant soundUsed before a vowel sound
a lion
a bear
a military submarine
an elephant
an octopus
an underwater adventure

Exception to the Rule!

Nouns are described by Adjectives - pretty simple!

There is one loophole here - remember that these two are supposed to help us better pronounce a word. Usually you can just look at the letter with which the word starts. However, you need to pay attention to the sound.

So, if the word begins with a silent consonant followed by a vowel or a letter pronounced like a vowel sound as in an abbreviation or acronym, an is still used.

Conversely, if the beginning sound functions like a consonant, as in the long U sound - you would use a.

That’s pretty tricky explained in words, but take a look:

WordBegins withPronounced likeA or An?Example
hourHowANan hour
honorHonANan honor
FBIFeffANan FBI agent
unitUyooAa unit
universityUyooAa university


The is a definite article that refers to something specific and known. It can be used in front of ALL nouns to indicate something specific.

It’s the difference between saying “a book” and “the book.” It changes the meaning from general to specific.

It’s used to refer to something known and often referenced earlier in the writing or conversation.

For example: “You remember the girl I told you about? I saw her at the park today.”

When to use each Article Adjective

Article adjectives are tiny words with a big job in the English language. Learning how and when to use them will help you to sound polished in your speech and writing. If you’re confused about adjectives, be sure to review before diving into this handout, and take a look at Article Adjectives for a more detailed explanation.

A, An, & The seem very simple, but there are definite rules for when each should be used. But, there are also times when no article should be used in a sentence. It can be tricky to get the hang of it, but take a look at the chart below for common rules and examples of each.

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