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Grammar: The Basics of Article Usage (a, an, the)

Article usage is often difficult for English learners. This post provides an activity for developing the basic rules for article usage.

Complete the activities below in the order they are presented. Make sure to mark which ones you got incorrect, so you can focus your English learning. Each activity provides the answers to check your work. 

First, some rules. 

Articles are directly linked to countable and uncountable nouns.  What are countable and uncountable nouns?

  • An -s can be added to the end of countable nouns to make them plural. 
  • An -s can NOT be added to the end of uncountable nouns to make them plural. 

one cat
two cats

Article usage depends on the type of noun (countable or uncountable). So, before we go any further, label the following nouns as countable and uncountable nouns*.

Countable (C)
Uncountable (U)


 *If you don't know, use a dictionary to determine if they are countable or uncountable. Click this link for an example. Under the word, there is "noun" and then either "U" (Uncountable) or "C" (Countable). 

Let's see how much you already know about articles. Do your best to answer the questions below.

Which type of noun do you use with the word “less” and much? Which with “fewer” and “many”?



What articles are possible for the words below (a, an, the, -)? The minus sign (-) means no article is possible. Do not change the form of the word. 

After comparing your answers, complete the following rules.

    We can only use _________________ for uncountable nouns and countable nouns in plural form.
    We can only use ________ for countable nouns in singular form.

How do we decide between "the" and "a/an"?

Let's look at the following passage and develop some rules. 
A revolution in neuroscience seems to be under way. It has allowed a 13-year-old autistic boy to speak for the first time. It has freed people with Tourette’s from physical tics so severe that they broke bones. It has stopped people with obesity from overeating and prevented those with anorexia from eating too little.

The revolutionary therapy is deep brain stimulation, a treatment that uses electrodes implanted in the brain to bring problematic behaviors under control…”

Reference: Deep brain stimulation: A wonder treatment pushed too far? (n.d.). Retrieved October 26, 2015. Retrieved from

In the first paragraph, does both the writer and the reader know which revolution is under way?

In the second paragraph, does both the writer and the reader now know which revolution is under way?

  • If the reader DOES NOT know which “revolution”, then use ____________
  • If the writer AND the reader do know which “revolution”, then use ____________

Now, let's practice. Complete the paragraph below by filling in the missing articles. Remember to use the rules we have developed. 

Bicycling is common form of transportation in Holland. As a result, many Dutch citizens are expert cyclists, and I once saw three people on bicycle together! I have improved my cycling since living here, but I still need to use both of my hands to steer. However, expert Dutch cyclists can ride past me with no hands while eating sandwich, drinking milk, and carrying bag on their way home! I even saw Willem-Alexander, King of Holland, cycling home. Overall, I find it pleasantly surprising that whole country reminds me of when I was kid.

Continue to Article Usage (2) for more advanced usage rules. (be sure you're an expert here, first!)

Feel free to ask any questions in the comment section below!


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