a|an,THE Problem (aka articles)

PhD requires intensive writing and editing. THE most common feedback I receive (english-wise) is about how to use the definitive article “THE”. My native language is Turkish, English is my second language and we don’t have articles in turkish language. We don’t have the definitive article at all which is why I struggle.

I try to add them into my writing but I always use the wrong one in the wrong place (not even sure whether these two “the”s are correct). And my supervisor tells me that it is quite obvious in written communication if you use articles incorrectly; so for those who experience the same problem this post should help us a bit (hopefully).

Besides my problem, when I speak with fellow PhD students I heard that they also experience similar problems such as they tend to put the definitive article everywhere as their language rules require this.

I recently bought a new book called “A graphic guide to the language: English is not Easy” written by Luci Gutierrez. The book is very nice, full of graphics to explain common knowledge about the language. On page 37 Luci simply summarise the use of articles with countable and uncountable nouns.

COUNTABLE NOUNS with A|AN = The first time you use that noun

There is a naked man in the garden.

COUNTABLE NOUNS with THE = The subsequent times you use the noun, or when the listener already knows what you are referring to.

The naked man is dancing.

PLURAL COUNTABLE NOUN with NO ARTICLE = when you speak in general.

I don’t like children.

UNCOUNTABLE NOUN with NO ARTICLE = if you mean all or any of that thing.

I don’t need help.

UNCOUNTABLE NOUN with THE = when you are talking about a particular example.

Thanks for the help you didn’t give me before.


  • A= when the noun starts with consonant sound: a friend
  • AN= when the noun starts with vowel sound: an egg
    • Be careful about the words starts with vowel but pronounced with consonant sound and vice versa.You just need to think about the sound, not the writing.
      • a one day conference (won-day)
      • a university (you-ni-ver-si-ty)
      • an hour (our)
      • an FBI (eff-bee-eye)
  • A countable noun= can have a number in front of it and can be plural (3 years, 1 rabbit, 2 suitcases)
  • An uncountable noun= cannot have a number in front of it and there is no plural form (music, information, news, luggage)

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