The Articles 3

Get the materials in PDF Need a photocopiable PDF with materials from this article? CLICK HERE to purchase it in our shop!
The Articles 3

Now I said earlier that ‘a' has a sort of association with the numeral ‘one' but is not so exact. It also has another sort of numerical association and this time it has the sense of each. Look at these examples:

The police officer reported that the car was travelling at least twenty miles an hour over the speed limit.

Notice I have used ‘an' because we don't pronounce the ‘h' in ‘hour' and so the word in terms of how you say it, begins with a vowel sound. The officer is talking about the rate of speed (how fast the car is travelling) and here ‘an' means every or each hour.

She was so keen to win a medal in the marathon that she spent six hours a day in training.

She spent six hours each or every day.

These are really cheap and you can buy them for 50 euros a box.

Each or every box will cost you 50 euros.

One more use of the indefinite article ‘a' or ‘an'. These have to be used when you want to make an exclamation. What's the meaning of ‘exclaim' and ‘exclamation'? This is when you express a thought or a remark with some force. The weather is very hot because the sun is shining and the sun hasn't shone for ages and ages. What do you say? – What a sunny day! As you can see, the comment is followed by a symbol ! called an exclamation mark. An obvious remark to make but you just feel you have to say it out loud. And then of course you could say: What a rainy day! But then it has to be raining when you say that if you don't want people to think you're not right in the end. Someone has just missed the bus, has just lost their lottery ticket, has just knocked into your new car. What do sympathetic people say when they hear about this? What a shame! What a pity!

Of course it is important to know when the indefinite article is used and it's equally important to know when we don't use it, when we omit it. You remember at the beginning I gave you the sentence: ‘A horse is a wonderful animal' when we weren't talking about any particular horse – simply a horse as apposed to a cat. Well, that's fine when the noun is singular but once we're talking generally about more than one (plural nouns), then the indefinite article leaves the scene and we say: ‘Horses are wonderful animals.' Then if we turn to uncountable nouns, which is another way of saying that we can't use them in the plural, it follows that they don't need an article either because we are talking about quantities when they are not measured like ‘milk' ‘water' or ‘air' or that we are thinking just of substances. We say: Milk is good for your health. It is recommended that you drink water every day. You must put air in your tyres. In all those examples we are not talking about an amount or a particular measurement but just milk, water and air in general. Abstract nouns follow the same pattern –they do not attract indefinite articles. What is an abstract noun? These are nouns that for example refer to our feelings like love, hate and fear. They are nouns that describe something you can't actually touch, see or hold. Charlie and Mary first met two years ago and are now married. With them it was a case of love at first sight. Another feeling: The idea of jumping off that bridge and being pulled back up again on a length of rubber fills me with fear.
Author: Alan Townend