A, An, and The (Articles)

I made an exercise from an article about Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, a company that completely changed the video rental industry in America.

I took every a, an, and the, out of the article. I also removed some demonstrative adjectives (this, that, these, and those) and possessive adjectives (my, your, his, her, its, our, their, whose). Try to correctly put those words back into the article. I suggest doing this multiple times, until you make few mistakes. (It might get easier because you start remembering which articles go with which words, which is good.)

Click here for the exercise.

Click here for the answers to the exercise.

Native speakers make mistakes. But it’s very rare that native speakers make mistakes with “a,” “an,” or “the,” the words called articles in English. There is one very well known mistake however, where it sounds like someone forgot an article; when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the Moon, he said the very famous line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

“Man,” without an article, and “mankind” are essentially synonyms, so the line doesn’t seem to make sense. The line has a different meaning, and makes a lot more sense, if Armstrong intended to say “one small step for a man.”

It’s clear that Armstrong intended to say “a man;” he is quoted as saying he “…would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it was not said…”

This information about Neil Armstrong is from Wikipedia and Snopes:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Armstrong#First_Moon_walk

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/one-small-misstep/

A recording of the line:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9WDsgCIroE

To help understand how articles are used, consider the following four sentences:

“I’m going to drive car.”

From this sentence we know that I’m going to drive a car, but we don’t know anything about the car I’m going to drive. We could try to guess about the car, and we might be right. But we don’t have to guess, because in English, articles are used. The words “a,” “an,” and “the” are the articles. They give us big hints about which thing is being talked about.

“I’m going to drive a car.”

By adding “a,” I’m indicating that specifically what car I’m going to drive either isn’t important, or hasn’t yet been determined. We do know that I’ll drive one car. Sometimes “a” is a synonym for “any.” “An” is the same word as “a,” the only difference is that “an” is used before a word that starts with a vowel sound.

“I’m going to drive the car.”

Now we probably know exactly which car I’m going to drive. It’s probably the only car available. Or it might be the same car that I’ve already mentioned recently.

“I’m going to drive my car.”

With this sentence we also probably know exactly which car I’m going to drive, because of the word “my.” “My” is not an article, but it serves a similar purpose, by specifying which noun the speaker is talking about. I’ve noticed that sometimes students don’t use words like “my,” “his,” or “those” enough.

I’ve also noticed that sometimes students skip “a,” “an”, and “the” when reading. Don’t skip them, read them so you get used to them. As you start to get used to articles, they will also make it a little easier to understand English.

 

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