Understanding Grammar: How to use articles
In this week's Premier Skills English Podcast, Jack and Rich have a quiz for you that tests your knowledge of grammar and football. The language focus is on articles (a, an, the) and when to use them and when not to use them in English. They give ten rules about how to use articles correctly. As always, we also have a new football phrase for you to guess. Enjoy!
Understanding Grammar - Ten important rules for using ‘articles’
Jack: Hey Rich, I’m going to a Premier League match in London this weekend. I’m very excited.
Rich: Are you going to an Arsenal match? They’re not playing at the weekend. They’re playing on Monday.
Jack: Yes, I know. Actually, I’m not going to see an Arsenal match. I’m going to watch a London derby. I’ve been given some free tickets.
Rich: You’re going to watch Spurs?
Jack: Yep. I’m going to the match between West Ham and Tottenham. It’ll be my first time at the London Stadium.
Rich: The West Ham - Spurs match. Nice. I suppose you’re hoping that West Ham win!
Jack: Of course!
Welcome - Articles
Rich: Hello my name’s Rich
Jack: and I’m Jack
Rich: and welcome to this week’s Premier Skills English podcast
Jack: Where we talk about football and help you with your English.
Jack: What’s happening this week, Rich?
Rich: In this week’s podcast, we have a football and language quiz for you and we’re going to talk about articles.
Rich: You know a, an and the. These words are called articles and they can be very difficult for learners to use correctly. When do we use a or an, when do we use the and when do we use no article at all.
Jack: You’re right. Using articles incorrectly is a common mistake, so in this week’s podcast, we’re going to look at ten rules or guidelines that you should think about if you want to use articles correctly.
Rich: We know that it can be a bit boring to learn grammar sometimes, especially when there are lots of rules, so we’re going to put all of these rules into a quiz to make it a bit more fun.
Jack: Don’t forget, there is more information about the language we use on the page below and activities to help you understand.
Rich: Make sure you listen to the end of the podcast because we’ve got another football phrase for you as well.
Jack: At the beginning of the podcast, we were speaking about a match that I’m going to this weekend. Did you notice that we used different articles when we described the match?
Rich: At first, Jack said that he was going to a Premier League match. He said he was going to a match in London. He said he was going to a London derby. He used the indefinite article ‘a’ because there are lots of Premier League matches, lots of matches in London and more than one London derby.
Jack: Rich asked me which match I was going to. I told him I was going to the West Ham-Tottenham match. I’m now talking about one specific match so I used the definite article ‘the’.
Rich: There are lots of reasons to use different articles. The easiest one to remember is when to use ‘an’ rather than ‘a’. Jack said he wasn’t going to an Arsenal match.
Jack: Arsenal begins with ‘A’. When nouns begin with vowels, a, e, i , o and u, we use ‘an’ and not ‘a’.
Rich: You probably learnt this rule many years ago, but we have to remember that rules aren’t always 100% exact. What about ‘an hour’? A football match lasts an hour and a half.
Jack: With ‘hour’ we use an because the ‘h’ is silent but with ‘half’ we use a because the ‘h’ is not silent. Half, hour, half an hour. So the ‘rule’ is; we use ‘an’ with nouns that begin with vowel sounds!
Rich: We’re not going to talk about the difference between ‘a’ and ‘an’ anymore, but it’s important to remember that there are often exceptions to rules.
Jack: But rules can be useful in your learning and for learning how to use articles and that’s what we’re going to look at in this week’s podcast. In the next section, we have ten sentences with gaps and ten explanations of some of the most common ways we use articles.
Rich: Right, we’re going to read you ten sentences. When you hear the sound of a bell, you have to decide if there should be an article. We want you to think about which article it should be; a, an, the, or no article.
Jack: We will then give you the answer and an explanation of the rule. Are you ready with the first sentence, Rich?
Rich: Sentence number one: Arsenal have signed a defender from Bosnia. The defender used to play in Germany. Do you know who he is?
Jack: Two bells!!
Rich: Yes, two bells because there were two articles. In the first sentence, I said Arsenal have signed a defender because it’s the first time the defender has been mentioned. Then, I say the defender used to play in Germany. I change the article because it’s the second time I mention the defender and Jack now knows who I am talking about.
Jack: So, when we talk about a noun for the first time we use the indefinite article, a or an. When we talk about it the second time and more times we use the definite article, the. We move from something unknown to something we both know.
Rich: So, the answer was Arsenal have signed a defender from Bosnia. The defender used to play in Germany. Who is he? Tell us the answer at the bottom of the page!
Rich: Sentence number two: Have a great time at the match on Saturday!
Jack: The answer here is the. We use the definite article ‘the’ when we are talking about shared knowledge - something that both the speaker and listener knows already.
Rich: I know which match Jack is going to so I use the definite article.
Jack: I might say to Rich ‘I’m going to get the train this afternoon’. In this situation, Rich knows what train I’m talking about. I don’t need to say ‘I’m going to get a train from Birmingham to London this afternoon’. Let’s move on to the next sentence.
Rich: Sentence number three: Hey Jack! Can you fetch a ball from the dressing room?
Jack: In this sentence, Rich is asking for one ball from the dressing room and there are lots of balls in the dressing room. Rich doesn’t want a special ball - any ball will do. We use the indefinite article ‘a’ when we mean any one - not a specific one. On the football pitch there is only one ball so we would say ‘pass me the ball’.
Rich: Can you fetch a ball from the dressing room?
Jack: Sentence number four: Which team is the most successful in Premier League history?
Rich: Here we are using a superlative. With superlatives we use the definite article. The best, the most, the biggest, the smallest and so on …
Jack: Which team is the most successful in Premier League history?
Rich: Sentence number five, this one is similar: Who scored the first Premier League hat-trick?
Jack: That’s a good question. The answer again is the. When we say ordinal numbers like first, second, third we use the definite article. Who did score the first Premier League hat-trick?
Rich: I don’t know. I’ll have to look in the comments to see if any of our listeners know the answer.
Jack: Sentence number six: Which football ground is on the banks of the River Thames?
Rich: Geographical features like rivers, lakes, mountains can be tricky for articles. In general, with rivers, seas, oceans, and mountain ranges we use the definite article; with countries, cities, continents and lakes we don’t use an article.
Jack: We say France not the France, America not the america, but what about the United States?
Rich: Well, it’s not really one specific country it’s a collection of states. The same with the United Kingdom or the Netherlands and the Philippines. They are a collection of regions, countries or islands.
Jack: What about the Czech Republic?
Rich: Not sure. Maybe a listener can tell us. Let’s move on.
Jack: Sentence number seven: Do you like reading (ding) books about football?
Rich: This is a tricky one. It’s really common and lots of my students make mistakes with this rule. When we talk about nouns in a general way and plural nouns we don’t use articles. We would never say ‘I like the apples’ when talking generally but we could say ‘I liked the apples that you bought the other day’ because we are talking about specific apples.
Jack: Sentence number eight: Matches are traditionally played at three ‘o’clock in the afternoon on Saturdays in the UK. When do matches usually kick off in your country?
Rich: The answer here is the. Time can be complicated. Generally, when we talk about years, months and time of the day we don’t use articles.
Jack: But with dates we do. We say the 22nd of September or the 5th of December and also with parts of the day: in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening.
Rich: Matches are traditionally played at three ‘o’clock in the afternoon on Saturdays in the UK.
Jack: Sentence number nine: Which Manchester City player is studying for an MBA at (ding) university?
Rich: When we are going to a place because we participate there we don’t use an article. If you are a student you say I’m going to school or college, if I’m a prisoner I go to prison, if I'm sick I go to hospital.
Jack: But if you work at these places or are visiting you use the definite article. I’m going to the hospital to collect my mother. I’m going to the school to meet my child’s teacher.
Rich: We’ll give you the answer to this one. Vincent Kompany is studying for an MBA at university.
Jack: Sentence number ten: Only a few players have scored more than three goals in a Premier League match. Can you name a couple of them?
Rich: The answer here is a. There are lots of other fixed phrases that use articles. Articles are often used to talk about quantity. For example, we say a lot of or a couple of. There are lots more fixed phrases too. These rules that we have looked at are just some of the most common ones.
Jack: I hope this quiz has helped you understand articles a bit better and if you can answer any of the football questions from the quiz, put your answers in the comments section below.
Rich: This week’s task is to write a football quiz question that uses articles in some of the ways that we’ve just looked at.
Jack: Write your question in the comments section below and leave a space where the article should be.
Rich: Other listeners have to answer the football question and more importantly say what article is needed in the space or spaces; ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’ or ‘no article’.
Can you work out this week’s football phrase?
Rich: Have you got a football phrase for us this week?
Jack: Yes, I have, but first, last week’s football phrase. The phrase was goalless draw. This is the phrase that is used to describe a match that finishes nil-nil, there aren’t any goals scored and the two teams get one point each because neither side wins. Last week there was a goalless draw between Chelsea and Arsenal.
Rich: Well done to Kwesimanifest from Ghana, Liubomyr from Ukraine, Haruyuki from Japan, Elghoul from Algeria, Ahmed Adam Mamado from Sudan. You all got the right answer. What’s this week’s football phrase?
Jack: This week’s football phrase is ‘** ** ** ****’. The phrase means that a team or player is performing well. Manchester Utd and City are ** **** at the moment because they are winning and playing well.
Rich: A difficult one this week. Right, that’s all we have time for this week! Don’t forget to write your answers to our questions and make a guess at our football phrase in the comments below.
Jack: And don’t forget to listen to our round-up show called ‘This Week’. All the action from Matchweek 6 will be on the Premier Skills homepage on Monday.
Rich: Bye for now and enjoy your football!
How much did you understand?
In the podcast, Rich and Jack used some words and phrases that might be new for you. Do you know the words in bold?
I'm going to watch a London derby. I've been given some free tickets.
Can you fetch a ball from the dressing room?
There were a few more tricky words in the podcast. Do you know what they all mean? Try the activity below, then, listen to the podcast again to hear how we used the words.
Articles - A or An
In this week's podcast, Jack and Rich spoke about articles. Do you know when to use 'a' and when to use 'an'? Take a look at these sentences from the podcast. Can you spot a mistake?
I'm not going to an Arsenal match.
A football match lasts for an hour and an half.
Articles - Moving from the general to the specific
When we are talking about things in general, we don't normally use an article before the noun. Take a look at this example from the podcast:
Do you like reading books about football?
When we are talking about one thing out of many, we usually use the non-definite article (a/an):
I read a really good book about football last week.
When we are talking about a specific thing, we often use the definite article (the) before the noun:
Was it the book about Alex Ferguson? I read it a few months ago. Yes, it was very good.
Articles - Moving from the unknown to the known
When we are talking about something to someone for the first time, we usually use the indefinite article. We use 'a' or 'an' to introduce a topic or something that is unfamiliar or unknown such as a piece of news. In the podcast, Jack said:
Arsenal have signed a defender from Bosnia.
The information or object is now known so when we talk about it a second time we use the definite article (the) before the noun. Look at the rest of Jack's sentence from the podcast:
Arsenal have signed a defender from Bosnia. The defender used to play in Germany.
Ten important rules to help with articles
- Use the indefinite article when you mention something for the first time
- Use the definite article when you talk about something for the second time
- Use the definite article when the listener knows what you are talking about; when you have shared knowledge
- Use the definite article with superlatives e.g. the best, the most successful etc.
- Use the definite article with ordinal numbers e.g. the first time, the second time
- Use the indefinite article when you are speaking of one of many e.g. bring me a ball
- Use the definite article when there is only one of something e.g. pass me the ball (on the pitch)
- Don't use articles when speaking about plural nouns in general
- Don't use articles when speaking about a participant in an institution e.g. a student goes to school, a criminal goes to prison
- Use the definite article if you are talking about visiting or working in an institution e.g. I'm going to the hospital to visit my mum
Write a quiz question
In the podcast, Rich and Jack gave you ten quiz questions. The questions were written to test your football knowledge and your knowledge of articles. Your task is to write a question that will test other listener's football and language knowledge. We want you to write one question about the Premier League or a Premier League club. Write your question and blank out any articles that your question uses. For example:
Who was ____ first player to score a hat-trick in the Premier League?
Your task is to write a question and to answer other listeners questions by telling learners what the missing articles are and the answer to the football question.
Write your answers in the comments section below.
What do you think?
In this week’s podcast, Jack and Rich spoke about articles and asked ten football questions.
Do you know the answers to all our quiz questions? Which questions were the most difficult?
Are there articles in your language? Is this an area of English that you have problems with? Why?
Look at the task above and write your football quiz questions. Also, answer other learner's questions in the comments section below.
Remember to write your guess at this week's football phrase, too!