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Articles in English – 5 Levels – Video

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by Gina Mares on September 28, 2021 , Comments Off on Articles in English – 5 Levels – Video

In this lesson, you can test your ability to use articles in English: ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’.

When should – and shouldn’t – you use ‘the’? What’s the difference between ‘a/an’ and ‘the’? How can you remember the rules and exceptions? You’ll see how to deal with these questions in this lesson.

QUIZ: Articles—Levels 1 to 3

Test your understanding of the rules and exceptions for using articles by trying this quiz.

It’s divided into two parts, following the order of the lesson. The first part covers levels one, two and three.

You’ll get your score when you’ve finished. After that, click ‘View Questions’ to see what you answered correctly and read our explanations for anything you didn’t get right.

If you do well, have a go at Levels 4 and 5 below.

QUIZ: Articles—Levels 4 and 5

Now try the harder challenge of our quiz for the higher levels.

You can do this and any of our quizzes as many times as you like before looking at the correct answers. Just click ‘Restart Quiz’ when you’ve seen your score.

Here’s how this lesson works.

There are five levels. Each level is more difficult than the previous one.

Level one is beginner. Levels two to four are intermediate. Level five is high intermediate to advanced.

If you’re not a beginner, start at level two! At each level, you can see what you need to focus on if you have difficulties.

Got it? Let’s start with level one.

Level One

Look at five sentences using articles in English. Each sentence has a gap. You can put ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’ or nothing in the gap.

  1. There’s ________ lemon tree in my garden.
  2. She’s ________ doctor, and her brothers are ________ pilots.
  3. I really like ________ strawberries.
  4. Can I ask ________ question?
  5. It’s cold! Can you close ________ window?

Pause the video and find your answers now!

Ready? Let’s see the answers together.

  1. There’s a lemon tree in my garden.
  2. She’s a doctor, and her brothers are pilots.
  3. I really like strawberries.
  4. Can I ask a question?
  5. It’s cold! Can you close the window?

Use ‘a’ or ‘an’ after ‘there is’, when you’re talking about one thing.

Use the article 'a' when talking about one thing: man holding up the number one

Use ‘a’ or ‘an’ to say what someone is, for example to say someone’s job.

Remember that you can’t use ‘a’ or ‘an’ with a plural noun. Use nothing.

Don’t use ‘a’ or ‘the’ to talk about things in general. If you say ‘I like strawberries’, you mean that you like *all* strawberries, in general.

Image of strawberries

Use ‘a’ or ‘an’ to mean ‘one of many’. This is a common way to use ‘a’ or ‘an’, so it’s useful to remember this idea.

Here, there are many possible questions you could ask, but you just want to ask one.

Use ‘the’ when it’s obvious which thing you mean. You often use ‘the’ in this way to talk about things around you which you can see and touch.

There are many windows in the world, but if someone asks you to close the window, you probably know which window they mean.

Now, let’s move on to level two.

Level Two

Here are your sentences for level two.

  1. We had smoked fish for breakfast.
  2. He’s always been tallest one in his class.
  3. I mostly watch TV on Internet these days.
  4. Most of people in my class take bus to college.
  5. I need to stop at post office on my way to work.

Here, we’ll focus on when to use ‘the’ or not.

Some of these sentences are missing ‘the’. Some are correct. Your job is to decide which sentences are incorrect, and add ‘the’ where needed. Pause the video and think about it.

Could you do it? Take more time if you want!

OK, let’s see the answers.

  1. We had smoked fish for breakfast.
  2. He’s always been the tallest one in his class.
  3. I mostly watch TV on the Internet these days.
  4. Most of the people in my class take the bus to college.
  5. I need to stop at the post office on my way to work.

In number one, ‘fish’ is general – you aren’t talking about some specific fish.

However, you could say ‘the smoked fish’. Do you know when?

You could say ‘the smoked fish’ if you were talking about food from a menu. You often use this when ordering in a restaurant. For example: ‘I’ll have the salmon, please.’ In this case, it’s something specific. ‘The smoked fish’ means ‘the smoked fish which is on your menu and which you serve here.’

Ording in a restaurant - using the article 'the'

Meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – don’t usually have an article.

Use ‘the’ before a superlative adjective, like ‘tallest’, ‘most’ or ‘best’.

Learn more in this Oxford Online English lesson: Adjectives in English.

In many phrases, you just have to remember whether to use ‘the’ or not. Why do you say ‘on TV’, without ‘the’, but ‘on the Internet’, with ‘the’? There’s no real logic to this; you just need to remember. Try to learn phrases like this as whole chunks, so you don’t have to think about whether to use ‘the’ or not when you’re using them in speech.

If you’re talking about people in general, then you don’t use ‘the’. For example: ‘Most people in the UK live in houses, not apartments.’

But, if you’re talking about a specific group of people, then you need ‘the’. That’s why you say ‘most of the people in my class’ – you’re talking about a specific, limited group of people.

When you’re talking about transport, you need ‘the’ if you use the verb ‘take’: take the bus, take the train, take the subway, and so on.

However, don’t use ‘the’ after ‘by’: go by bus, get there by train, travel by subway, and so on.

Finally, you often need to use ‘the’ with places in a city, like shops, supermarkets, banks and so on.

Let’s think about something; look at two sentences.

  1. I need to stop at the post office on my way to work.
  2. I need to stop at a post office on my way to work.

Both are possible, but what’s the difference?

Sentence number one, with ‘the’, means that you know which post office you’re going to and where it is.

The second sentence, with ‘a’, means that there are many post offices, and maybe you haven’t decided which one you’re going to stop at.

Usually, when you talk about places in a city, you have a specific place in mind. That’s why you often need ‘the’.

Got it? In the next two sections, you’ll see more details about when to use ‘the’, and when not to when talking about articles in English.

Level Three

One of the biggest challenges with using ‘the’ accurately is different kinds of name. There are many rules to remember, and they aren’t very consistent. Let’s practise this now!

  1. We’re going to ________ Odeon on ________ George Street to see a film – want to come?
  2. ________ Philippines consists of thousands of islands, the largest of which is ________ Luzon.
  3. ________ Nile flows into ________ Mediterranean Sea.
  4. ________ Stansted airport is often described as being in London, although it’s actually in ________ Essex, about 45 minutes away from the city.
  5. Why do some people say ‘________ Edinburgh University’ and other people say ‘________ University of Edinburgh’?

Each sentence has two spaces. The question is: do you need ‘the’ or not? Pause the video and think about it.

Ready? Let’s check!

  1. We’re going to the Odeon on George Street to see a film – want to come?
  2. The Philippines consists of thousands of islands, the largest of which is Luzon.
  3. The Nile flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
  4. Stansted airport is often described as being in London, although it’s actually in Essex, about 45 minutes away from the city.
  5. Why do some people say ‘Edinburgh University’ and other people say ‘The University of Edinburgh’?

Many building names, like cinemas, museums, theatres and other famous buildings have names with ‘the’. The Odeon is a well-known cinema chain.

Street names don’t use ‘the’.

There’s a confusing rule with islands: if you’re talking about a group of islands, you need ‘the’, but for an individual island, you don’t use ‘the’. So, you say ‘the Philippines’ but ‘Luzon’. You say ‘the Seychelles’ but ‘Hawaii’, without ‘the’.

There’s something similar with mountains and mountain ranges. If you’re talking about a mountain range, like ‘the Himalayas’, you need ‘the’. But for a single mountain, like ‘Mount Everest’, you don’t use ‘the’.

Use ‘the’ with names of rivers, seas and oceans. What about lakes? No ‘the’ for lakes!

This is the kind of time you might be feeling annoyed with the English language. Why are there all these rules? Why don’t they make sense?

First, don’t worry about these things too much. It’s good to speak and write accurately, but it’s also not the end of the world if you make a mistake with ‘the’ in these situations.

Second, learning language in chunks can really help here. If you learn the sentence ‘Luzon is the largest island in the Philippines’, and you remember the sentence, you don’t have to think about when to use ‘the’ or not.

Then, if you learn in this way, you have many examples in your head of when to use ‘the’ or not. This can build your instinct for what’s correct, which makes it easier to decide when to use ‘the’ or not in new sentences.

Here’s a rule which is useful: if a name has a place as part of the name, it probably won’t have ‘the’. Stansted is a place, so the name ‘Stansted airport’ doesn’t have ‘the’.

Like countries, names of counties, states, provinces and so on mostly don’t have ‘the’. Essex is a county in the east of England.

In number five, you can see another example of a name with a place: Edinburgh University. It doesn’t use ‘the’.

But, if a name has ‘of’ in it, it generally will need ‘the’, even if it includes a place name.

And, sometimes there are two names for the same thing! You can say Edinburgh University, or the University of Edinburgh. The first one is more common, but both are possible.

OK? Remember that you might need to review a section more than once to get it. Also, remember that these five levels lessons are designed to help you find out what you know and what you don’t know. If you find a section difficult, that can help you to understand where your weaknesses are, and what you need to spend more time on.

Level Four

Here, you’re going to see a topic which is – in our experience – one of the most confusing for English learners relating to using ‘the’.

Before you see your sentences for level four, look at an example.

  • The orangutan is found in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Orangutans - using the article 'the' to talk about all of them

Here, are we talking about one orangutan?

No, here, we mean all orangutans. We’re talking about orangutans generally. So, why use a singular noun with ‘the’? Why not use a plural noun and say: ‘Orangutans are found in Malaysia and Indonesia.’?

Well, you can. Both sentences are possible.

  • The orangutan is found in Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • Orangutans are found in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Using ‘the’ here means that you’re talking about a group or category. It can be confusing, because usually you use ‘the’ to talk about a specific thing, but here ‘the’ has a general meaning.

Let’s practise this a little more. Look at your sentences for this level.

  1. The Siberian tiger is considered endangered, with just a few hundred individuals living in the wild.
  2. I think the rich should be taxed more to reduce the wealth divide in society.
  3. Although Switzerland is not part of the EU, the Swiss can live and work in other EU countries, just like EU citizens can.
  4. Many cities are planning for a future in which the electric car is the most popular form of road transport.
  5. Playing any musical instrument to a high standard is difficult, but I think the piano is the most difficult to master.

So, what do you have to do? Focus on the highlighted phrases with ‘the’. Some of these phrases can be replaced with a plural noun, without ‘the’, like in the example about orangutans you just saw. Your job is to find the sentences where this is possible, and change the noun phrase. You might need to add some words. Pause the video, take your time, and think about it!

Ready? Confused? Let’s do one together. Here’s the answer for number one only.

  1. Siberian tigers are considered endangered, with just a few hundred individuals living in the wild.

Here, it’s possible to use a plural noun with the same meaning, like this. If you want more time to think about the others, pause the video now.

Done? Let’s see the remaining answers.

  1. I think rich people should be taxed more to reduce the wealth divide in society.
  2. Although Switzerland is not part of the EU, Swiss people can live and work in other EU countries, just like EU citizens can.
  3. Many cities are planning for a future in which electric cars are the most popular form of road transport.
  4. Playing any musical instrument to a high standard is difficult, but I think the piano is the most difficult to master.

In sentences two and three, ‘rich’ and ‘Swiss’ are adjectives. You can use ‘the’ plus an adjective to talk about a group or category in general. If you want to use a plural noun instead, you need to add the noun – ‘people’.

In sentence five, you can’t use a plural noun. With musical instruments, you can only use ‘the’ plus a singular noun to talk about the category in general.

Again, if you’re questioning your life choices in watching this video, don’t worry about it. Many English learners find this difficult, and need time to understand it in depth.

On the other hand, these aren’t strange sentences or rules that you only need sometimes. These rules and topics are relevant for speaking and writing in almost any situation, so they’re worth spending time on if you want to communicate accurately and clearly!

OK, you’re nearly done – one more level to go!

Level Five

This is it – level five – the hardest questions we could make using articles in English.

Here are five sentences.

  1. There is a Jamie in my office, but that’s not the Jamie I was telling you about yesterday.
  2. The invention of the quantum computer will lead to the future we can’t imagine today.
  3. Your birthday was on a Thursday last year; don’t you remember? We went to see your parents together on following Saturday.
  4. I’m staying at the Four Seasons, on the 16th floor, in the room 515.
  5. We had a terrible first half of the year; let’s hope a second half will be better!

Four of these sentences have mistakes; one is correct. Can you find the correct sentence, and correct the mistakes in the other four? Pause the video and try it now!

Difficult? Here’s a clue: you might need to forget about the rules you know. These sentences test your knowledge of exceptions and unusual cases which don’t fit the general rules about using articles.

Finished? Let’s look together.

  1. There is a Jamie in my office, but that’s not the Jamie I was telling you about yesterday.
  2. The invention of the quantum computer will lead to a future we can’t imagine today.
  3. Your birthday was on a Thursday last year; don’t you remember? We went to see your parents together on the following Saturday.
  4. I’m staying at the Four Seasons, on the 16th floor, in the room 515.
  5. We had a terrible first half of the year; let’s hope the second half will be better!

Sentence one is correct. How do you explain this?

Normally, you don’t use articles with people’s names. However, here, you’re talking about multiple people who have the same name, and contrasting them. ‘The Jamie I was telling you about’ is specific, and needs ‘the’ to show this. ‘a Jamie in my class’ is one of many Jamies, but not the Jamie we’re interested in right now.

In most cases, you say ‘the future’. In sentence two, you’re talking about one of many possible futures, so you use ‘a’. This is common when you use an adjective with ‘future’: ‘a bright future’, ‘a difficult future’, and so on.

Again, sentence three shows you an exception to a rule. You don’t usually use articles with days of the week, but if you’re talking about which day a specific date falls on, then you can use ‘a’. You also need an article with days of the week if you use certain adjectives, like ‘following’ or ‘previous’.

Image of days of the week - articles in English

Sentence four is a good example of how inconsistent the ‘rules’ are here. You need ‘the’ for the hotel name, and for the floor number, but you don’t use ‘the’ with the room number. Don’t try to look for the logic – there isn’t any.

In sentence five, it would be easy to think that the two noun phrases – ‘first/second half of the year’ – should have the same article. However, in this case there is some logic to why they’re different.

In the first one, you say ‘a terrible first half’ because, although there’s only one first half of the year, there are many ways it could have gone. It could have been good, or amazing, or average, or bad, and so on.

In the second one, there’s no adjective. Here, you use regular rules – there’s only one second half of the year, so you use ‘the’. The adjective makes all the difference.

That’s all. We hope you found the lesson interesting!

Keep practicing with another lesson: 5 Levels – Adverbs and Adjectives.

Gina MaresArticles in English – 5 Levels – Video

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