Everything about Indefinite Article


Ludwig Wittgenstein once said: “Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language”. Indeed, the grammar may be compared to the human spine that supports the whole body of any language. Although most foreign students who just started to walk a thorny path towards written English excellence tend to believe that the main trouble always lays exactly in the verb tenses, most of them often face a nasty surprise, when after they have finally learned and understood the basic grammar rules they do realize that they have absolutely no idea about what to do with such tricky little words as definite and indefinite articles. Indeed, definite and indefinite articles often become a real problem for many generally fluent and experienced non-native speakers, and I personally do know even several certified interpreters that despite perfect knowledge of English grammar and spelling sometimes do make mistakes in usage of ‘a’ and ‘the’. Actually, the practice shows that when it comes to the articles many students who haven’t completely understood their purpose and rules of usage often prefer to stick to the couldn't-care-less principle ‘the rest will follow’ and simply ignore the problem instead of searching the way to solve it, which is absolutely unacceptable. The significance of definite and indefinite article must never be underestimated because in fact, sometimes such devil-may-care approach may lead to quite funny confuses. Just remember that famous quote from the Fight Club movie in the dialog between the narrator and airport security officer (it is company policy never to imply ownership in the event of… well, I guess you know what I mean). Nevertheless, today as part of our grammar blogposts series, we decided to declare war on English articles misuse and tell you everything you need to know about indefinite article!

Indefinite Article: Anatomy of Trouble

Ok, initially all this stuff may look as simple as it can be. The English language has… roll of drums… two indefinite articles: ‘a’ and ‘an’. Indefinite articles in English are invariable and are used depending on the first letter of the following noun for the sake of pronunciation. Actually both ‘a’ and ‘an’ derived from Old English ‘an’, which literally meant the number ‘one’, so yes, it’s a kind of a little linguistic old school tie – everything just has to sound nice. Therefore, remember once and for all: you use ‘a’, when a noun starts with a consonant or ‘u’ and ‘eu’ that sound like ‘you’ and you use ‘an’, when the noun starts with a vowel or mute ‘h’. For example: a boy, a girl, a unit, a euphemism, butan apple, an hour, an ugly mistake, an awesome editor, et cetera? Come on; just use it correctly, ok? You don’t want pronunciation Nazis to be upset, do you?

Indefinite Article – The Best Way to Preserve Anonymity

Well, now let’s talk about indefinite article usage and why we have to use it at all. Indefinite article is mainly used to indicate that a noun is not particular one and cannot be clearly identified by the reader or listener, so it’s like the best way to preserve one’s anonymity in writing. (Just remember that quote above). The indefinite article is usually used in the following instances.

1. We use indefinite article to introduce some object or refer to something for a first time. For example:

I have a car.

He is a decent man.

There is a university in my home city.

2. We use indefinite article to talk about things in general that are not specific:

Police are searching for a suspect. (It is not specified what suspect exactly they are looking for)

Yesterday I was offered a good job. (Same here, the exact job is not specified)

When detective entered a room, he noticed an unusual strong smell. (The room and nature of smell aren’t specified).

3. We use indefinite article when talking about things that are not part of the common ground, like:

The yellow newspaper wrote about a UFO last week.

Have you ever seen a hurricane?

A tornado destroyed many houses.

3. We use indefinite article to name a member of a group. For example, we use it a) with the names of jobs:

That good friend of mine is a doctor.

I have worked as an editor for more than ten years.

A good engineer must be perfectly competent.

b) With religions and nationalities in singular form:

His father has been a Catholic for all his life.

James is proud to be an Englishman.

4. We use indefinite article when we talk about days of week, without referring to any particular day. For example:

Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday, christened on a Tuesday, married on a Wednesday….

5. We also use indefinite article when referring to an example of something:

The rat has a long tail.

This car has a powerful engine.

She wears a very unusual dress.

6. We use indefinite article after ‘such’ and ‘what’:

What a beautiful landscape!

What a generous man he is.

It was such a terrible mistake.

7. We use indefinite article in the meaning of ‘one’ when referring to the single object or unit of measure. For example:

Do you want a drink? (I bet you’ll want one after dealing with all these grammar nuances).

I can give you a thousand of reason to order proofreading service online.

I’d like to have a rest after that sleepless night of working on my essay.

Attention! Bear in mind that you never can use indefinite article with noun in plural form. It’s a mortal sin of English grammar that is punished by the supreme penalty. I mean it!

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