The following tips provide the basic rules for using articles (a/an/the). Over the next week, refer to the tips whenever you read a business document, a magazine article, a web page, etc. Locate a few nouns in the reading and use the tips to analyze the article usage.

Using articles correctly is a skill that develops over time through lots of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Think about the rules below and bear them in mind when reading and listening to the language around you. Soon you will find you don’t have to think about the rules anymore. Usage will become natural to you.

General Usage Rules

Noun

a/an

the

no article

countable
& plural

a letter
an invoice

the letter
the invoice

NOT
ALLOWED

countable
& plural

NOT
ALLOWED

the letters
the invoices

letters
invoices

uncountable

NOT ALLOWED

the information

information

Use of the Indefinite Article (a/an)

  • Use a or an when it is the first time we mention or talk about something.
  • Use a or an with singular, countable nouns.

Could you let me have an envelope?

I purchased a fax machine yesterday.

There is a letter for you.

Use of the Definite Article (the)

  • Use the when the reader is clear about what is being referred to.

Please close the door.

Further to the meeting of 4 December……

We sent the file you requested to the Sales Department.

  • Use the when the noun has been mentioned already.
I have received a letter from a customer complaining about a sales person in our Mongkok branch. The customer said that the salesperson was rude to her when she tried to ask a question. I will pass the letter onto you.
  • Use the when it is clear there is only one of something.
The General Manager came to our office yesterday.

Zero Article

We can omit articles when generalising about plural countable nouns and also with uncountable nouns.

The Customer Service Department handles complaints. (all and any complaints)

Staff who do not observe company regulations will receive warnings. (all staff; all company regulations)

Production will begin in May. (uncountable noun)

 
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