English Grammar Guide

Articles - Definite, Indefinite, Partitive


Definite Articles

General principles
The definite article 'the' (invariable in form) designates a person, place, or event which has been specified or defined by the speaker:

  • Here's the book I bought.

  • The cat is on the roof.

  • He said he would bring the money.

Omission of the definite article
The definite article does not always precede nouns: sometimes indefinite articles or partitive articles will be used. However, sometimes no article at all is necessary, for example in the following cases:

1. As a general rule, the definite article is omitted before abstract nouns or nouns representing general categories. It is often omitted after verbs expressing opinions or preferences:

  • Poverty is the world's biggest problem today.

  • I don't like animals.

  • Cats are nicer than dogs.

  • Time flies.

  • She likes coffee, but she hates tea.

2. Generally, the article is omitted before days of the week and dates:

  • On Tuesdays the museums are closed.

  • On Saturdays I always have a lay-in.

  • Friday night we are going dancing.

  • I was born on may 19th, 1960.

3. Generally, the article is omitted before names of countries, states, cities, and regions:

  • France is seventeen times smaller than the United States.

  • California is larger than Lombardia.
    Exceptions: Some names actually include the definite article, such as 'The Hague'.

4. Generally, the article is omitted before titles or nouns indicating professions:

  • President Mitterrand completed two terms. (not 'The President..')
    However, when we do not add a name, we say 'The President completed...'

  • We saw Professor Miller at the restaurant.

  • She met with Doctor Schmidt.

The use of the definite article does not change in interrogatives and negatives.

Indefinite articles

The indefinite article has two forms: before singular nouns we use 'a' (or 'an' before most vowels); before plural nouns we use 'some':

  • a cat

  • an accident

  • some dogs

However: Before vowels producing a 'y' sound (as in 'you'), 'a' is used, rather than 'an':

  • a unit

  • not a one

  • a unicorn

As a general rule, the indefinite article signals a person, thing or event that has not been clearly defined by the speaker. It is often used after verbs of possession or consumption:

  • I'll have a coffee, please.

  • I have a book you might like.

  • She has some paintings for sale.

In questions and negatives, the plural indefinite article 'some' is generally replaced by 'any':

  • Don't you have any clean clothes?

  • They don't have any books for sale.

  • I have never had an accident.

Partitive article - Some

When the article 'some' appears before a plural noun it functions like an indefinite article:

  • He has some tickets for the game.

  • Some students decided not to attend the class.

However, when 'some' appears before a singular noun, it is being used as a partitive. This means that a part of something is indicated, or a partial (or indeterminate) quantity is referred to. It is often used after verbs of possession or consumption:

  • Do you have some free time this afternoon?

  • We're going to buy some milk.

  • I heard some bad news.

  • She has some money to spend.

  • Would you like some help ?
    Note: After expressions of quantity, the partitive article is not used:

  • Students buy a lot of sweets.

  • Today people have more activities than before.

In negative expressions, the partitive article 'some' generally becomes 'any' (this change will also occur in negative interrogatives):

  • She doesn't have any money.

  • They didn't have any milk.

  • Don't you have any money?