How to know when to use “a” and “the”

Today, I want to write a short post about using “a” and “the”.

Right now I’m in the midst of preparing some grammar lessons for our students, so I thought that writing about grammar in today’s post would fit right in.

“A / an” and “the” are articles. They are used to refer to or indicate a noun.

When you use “a” (or “an”), you are talking about something that is not specific. When you use “the”, you are referring to something that is specific.

1. “Please get me a box to put these books in,” said Alia to Ben.
2. “Please get me the box to put these books in,” said Alia to Ben.

These two sentences sound very similar, but in Example 1, Alia is telling Ben to get “a box”. Any box will do. She is not being specific.

In Example 2, Alia is telling Ben to get “the box”. This indicates that she’s referring to a specific box that she and Ben know about.

Now, please remember that “a” or “an” can only refer to one thing (singular noun). Do not use it with plural nouns.

There are of course many other instances for using “a” and “the”, but that would require a much longer post (or maybe even a class!).

But I hope this short post has been helpful! Talk to you again soon.


P.S. Did you miss last week’s post? We wrote about limiting beliefs and how you can overcome them. Read it here.

P.P.S. Don’t forget to share this post with friends and colleagues. It’s common to confuse “a” and “the” when English is our second language!