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What are articles? Articles are similar to adjectives, and, like adjectives, articles modify nouns. English has three articles: "the" and "a/an". "The" is used to refer to specific or particular nouns; "a" and "an" are used to modify non-specific or non-particular nouns. 

"The" is referred to as a definite article and "a" and "an" are indefinite articles. Let's examine each article a little more closely.

- "A" and "an" indicate that the noun modified is indefinite, referring to any member of a group.

1. In the sentence, "Tui wants a puppy for his birthday", "a" suggests that Tui wants any puppy, not a specific puppy.

2. In "Help! I need a police officer!", the article means the speaker doesn't need a specific police officer, but rather any available officer.

3. Whereas, in "When Koong was in Chiang Mai, she saw an elephant", the article suggests that a single, non-specific thing (the elephant) is being referred to. While there are many elephants in Chiang Mai, only one is being talked about.

- "The" is the definite article used before a singular or plural noun when the noun is specific or particular.

1. In the sentence, "The teacher of Joy's class quit her job", a particular teacher is being talked about - only the specific teacher who quit her job.

2. "Fah was happy to see the fireman who stopped the flames in her shop" references a particular fireman. Even if Fah didn't know the fireman's name, she is still referring to a specific fireman, the one who stopped the flames in her shop.

3. And "the" as used in this sentence, "We saw the panda bear at the zoo", indicates that there is likely only one panda bear at the zoo that was visited.

Tip: Remember that "the" = definite article, and "a" and "an" = indefinite articles.


Heather Vlach is an English-language specialist and Intensive Studies educator at International School Bangkok in Nonthaburi. Her email address is heatherv@isb.ac.th

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