English Writing
The article

If English is not your mother tongue, your English Writing may be awkward and a bit difficult.  It’s a difficult language, but it’s not impossible.

This article will focus on one topic that may assist you with your English Writing – Definite and Indefinite Articles.

One of the main omissions with writing of English that is not your mother tongue is the “article.” 

What is an article?

It is “a” or “the.”  It precedes the noun always – and all nouns have them.  It acts like an adjective.

An adjective is a word that modifies or describes a noun.   Here are three nouns – a person, place, and a thing.

  • James
  • Canada
  • Desk

"John" is a Proper Noun.

  • It’s the name of a person.

"Canada" is a Proper Noun

  • It’s the name of a place.

"Desk" is a common noun.

  • It’s the name of a thing – and does not require the capital letter.

For common nouns, you do need the article or an adjective - and often both together.

The article

The article.  The article specifies whether there is a pre-recognition or not.

For example, if I have been talking of a particular “desk,” then I can talk of THE desk. 

  • It is one that has been specified earlier, identified earlier, and I can talk of THE desk. 
  • It is one particular desk.

If there has no pre-recognition, then it could be any desk – there is no specific desk referred to.  So, we can talk of A desk.  

  • The “the” is the DEFINITE ARTICLE – it refers to a definite noun – something mentioned before and understood.
  • The “a” is the INDEFINITE ARTICLE – it refers to a non-specific noun – something not mentioned before and not understood.

So, we can speak of “A desk.”  (non specific)


We can speak of “THE desk.”  (very specific)

Variation of "a" or "an"

Variation of "a" or "an."  If the noun begins with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) then we have to add “n” to the indefinite article.  To make the pronunciation easier, we talk of

  • A desk
  • AN apple

In review, as a general rule, every common noun requires an article – so don’t omit it.


  • If you have specified the noun before, and it is something DEFINITE, then use “the.”
  • If you have not specified the noun before, and it is something non definite, then use “a” or “an.”

English Writing examples

So, let’s try these sentences.  Add either the definite or indefinite article.

(a) I have brought my football to the playground.  I left ____ football there.

(b) I brought ____ apple for the teacher.  I left _____ apple on her desk.

(c) I polished ____ apple at home, and tied it with a bow.  Then, I took _____ apple to the teacher.


(a) ...I left the football there. (It has been previously identified as my football, so it's a definite one.)

(b) ...an apple for the teacher.  I left the apple on her desk.  (In the first instance, there is no specific reference to a previous apple so it's indefinite.  In the second sentence, however, the reference is to the apple that I brought - so it is a definite one.)

(c)   I polished an apple.  I took the apple to the teacher. (In the first sentence, there is no previous reference to it is indefinite.  In the second sentence, we refer to the apple I polished - so it is definite.

In English writing, if there is a possessive adjective for the noun, you may omit the article.  

…on the desk    
…on a desk
…on her desk

However, if you have another adjective for a noun, you can use both an article and the adjective:

...on the new desk


When writing,  review for accurate use of the definite and indefinite articles.  Find all the nouns.  Check to see if they need the article and which article they need.  

Learning how to write with the definite and indefinite articles will help you become an accomplished master of English writing.

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