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When do you need to use an article with a noun phrase?

An important and rather complex area in English grammar is the use of the article. Not all languages have articles and in a number of languages, the rules governing article use are different from those in English so some international students may find that they tend to make mistakes in this area. It can sometimes also be difficult to decide when the article is not needed in front of a noun.

In these activities you will review nouns and the use of the article in English and practise adding articles to a text.

Activity 1: Recognising nouns with articles

Look at this extract from a formal text about computer hardware. Select the nouns and press the 'bold' button to highlight them. To undo what you have highlighted select the 'normal' button. Then check your answers.

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Now identify which ones have an article with them in the text, and which do not and drag and drop them into the appropriate box.

For those with an article, think about why the particular article is used in each case. For those without an article, decide why the article is not needed. Then read the comment.

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Activity 2: Deciding when to use an article

This activity will help you to establish whether or not an article should be used with a noun and, if so, what that article should be. Explore the following flow chart which shows the key questions you need to consider and their related answers.

Think of an idea you would like to express in writing and note the key words it contains in the box, highlighting the nouns:

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Apply the questions in the flow chart below to one of the nouns that you have identified in the sentence that you would like to write. Read the first question and select the answer in the flow chart. The rest of the flow chart will appear as you click on your choices. At the end you will find out whether or not your noun requires an article in front of it.

Here is the complete flow chart:

Chart (pdf, 90KB). You may wish to print this document.

You can also use the chart to help you decide whether an article is necessary or not for the nouns in the following three sentences:

Write one of the following in each gap in the sentences below: a definite article 'the', an indefinite article 'a' or 'an', leave blank for no article or write (pl) if no article is required but the noun should be a plural.

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1. HotelClub website has e-commerce feature(s). It includes shopping basket(s) which customer(s) can use to select as they shop. Before they buy selected items, they review the contents of basket to check that they are acceptable.

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2. Communication refers to dialogue that websites have with their users, while community is about interaction that the users have with each other. 'Shop with friend' is virtual shopping experience which allows two or more users to view a site together, discuss products and decide whether or not to buy.

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3. colour scheme of a site is one of most important factors to be decided. Different colour(s) may suggest different value(s) or attribute(s). For example, light blue may suggest softness and freshness.

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Activity 3: Adding articles to a text

Now test yourself by completing the text in this exercise from which all the articles have been removed.