Understanding Grammar - a, an, or the
In this week's Premier Skills English Podcast, Jack and Rich talk about Indian food (Jack loves it, but Rich is not a big fan). The language focus is on articles (a, an, the) which is an area of English that lots of learners have problems with as they are often used differently in your first language or don't exist at all. More specifically, we are going to focus on how we use articles when we are talking in a general sense and when we are talking about a specific thing. Your task is to complete some sentences and use the correct article. As always, we also have a new football phrase for you to guess. Enjoy!
Warning: This section contains jokes!
Jack: Excuse me ... waiter ...
Rich: Yes sir. Is everything OK?
Jack: No. It’s not. Look. There's a fly in my soup!
Rich: Its OK, sir, there's no extra charge!
Jack: But what’s the fly doing there?
Rich: Hmmm. It looks like it’s floating.
Jack: I can see that. But why? Why is there a dead fly in my soup?
Rich: It probably drowned. Oh no, look. It’s still alive
Jack: But what’s it doing in my soup?
Rich: I think it’s praying.
Jack: Well take it away. I can’t eat it now.
Rich: Ah! Its prayers were answered.
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.
Rich: Those jokes at the beginning were very funny.
Jack: Yes - and there were some examples of language that we’re going to look at in the podcast.
Rich: Are we talking about dead flies?
Jack: Ha ha. Let me give you a clue. I said. There’s a dead fly in my soup. And then I said what’s the fly doing there.
Rich: A fly then the fly. So we’re talking about articles. This will be really useful for my students. They often make mistakes and say things like I like the football or I’m doctor.
Jack: Lots of students have problems with articles. It’s tricky in English; when do you say the or a or an or when not to use an article. They should be saying I like football and I’m a doctor.
Rich: The problem is articles don’t exist in lots of languages or are used very differently in other languages.
Jack: And the rules are complicated. There are lots of different rules and there always seem to exceptions. I always tell my students to think about the rules as guides.
Rich: So, in this week’s podcast we’re going to try to help you with this difficult area of English and we’re going to focus on the most difficult rules or guidelines.
Jack: And later on, there’s going to be a quiz for you to do that will test how well you use articles.
Rich: It was a good match the other day, wasn’t it?
Jack: Yeah, it was a really good match and we won!
Rich: Did you do anything after the match? I didn’t see you.
Jack: I had to rush off. I had a date with a curry.
Rich: You had a date with a curry?
Jack: Well, not really. I was meeting my wife at an Indian restaurant in town.
Rich: Ah! I see. Which one did you go to?
Jack: The Taj Mahal. You know, the one on the high street in the centre of town.
Rich: I’ve not been to that one ... I’m not a big fan of curry.
Jack: You don’t like curry! The curry at the Taj Majal is amazing. On Saturday I had a chicken jalfrezi. It was delicious. It’s possibly the best curry in the UK!
Rich: I don’t like the smell.
Jack: The smell? The smell in Indian restaurants is wonderful. When you can smell all the spices in the air, you know the food is being freshly cooked and prepared. In the Taj Mahal in town, the smell hits you when you walk in and really makes your mouth water.
Rich: It’s all a bit too spicy for me.
Jack: I love spicy food. As I said, I had a chicken jalfrezi. It was so good. I mean, they’re always good, but the one I had on Saturday was super spicy. The waiter knows how I like it.
Rich: No thanks - that would blow my head off. I do like poppadoms and naan bread though.
Jack: The naan bread in the Taj Mahal is really tasty and it’s massive too! Yum!
Rich: Do you want to hear a joke about an Indian restaurant?
Jack: Is the joke funny? Your jokes aren’t always very funny.
Rich: Of course, it is. So, do you want to hear a joke?
Jack: Go on then.
Rich: Well it’s too bad. I’ve got naan.
Rich: Naan - like naan bread... I’ve got naan.
Jack: Groan - Your jokes are generally pretty bad, but that one was terrible.
Rich: That’s not true. Well, maybe that one wasn’t very funny. But normally my jokes make my students laugh.
Jack: This week we’re looking at articles, a, an, the and when you use no article. Articles can be really difficult to use because there are lots of rules or guides, but there are always exceptions.
Rich: In the last section, Jack told us about an Indian restaurant he visited last weekend and while we were speaking we used lots of articles.
Jack: However, we’re going to focus on one particularly difficult rule. It’s difficult because it’s hard to explain - or that’s how it seems to me. The first thing to remember is, we don’t use articles when we are talking about something in a general way.
Rich: In the example conversation, I said ‘I don’t like curry’. We don’t use an article because we don’t use articles when talking about countable or uncountable nouns in a general sense.
Jack: What do you mean ‘a general sense’?
Rich: When we are not being specific. I’m not talking about one curry. I’m not talking about one curry in a restaurant. I’m talking about all curries in general. I don’t like curry, or I don’t like curries.
Jack: I was talking about the curry I ate at the restaurant, but Rich was talking about all curry. Another example is when I said, ‘I love spicy food’. I was talking about spicy food in general, so you wouldn’t say ‘I love the spicy food’ if you’re talking in a general sense about all spicy food.
Rich: Good, but you could say ‘I love the curry they cook at the Taj Mahal’ or ‘I love the spicy food you can get at Thai supermarkets’.
Jack: That brings us to the second thing to remember. We usually use the definite article - the - with nouns when we are talking about something specific, that is, when we are talking about one thing and not others, for example, one curry and not all curries.
Rich: In the roleplay, I said, ‘I like naan bread’ and Jack replied by saying ‘the naan bread at the Taj Majal is really tasty’. I was speaking in a general sense, so I didn’t use an article.
Jack: But I was speaking about some specific naan bread so I said ‘the naan bread’.
Rich: Another way of thinking about it is if you are being specific, it means that the noun you are talking about is known - it is something that the listener already knows - he or she knows what you are speaking about and we use the in these situations.
Jack: There are reasons for this. Sometimes the listener knows what the noun refers to because there is only one of something. For example, the moon, the president, the pope.
Rich: Often, this is because the listener understands the context of the conversation. Jack said ‘the waiter knows how I like it’.
Jack: When you are watching football, you can say ‘the referee’ because everyone knows from the context who you are talking about.
Rich: Finally, what you are referring to might be known because you’ve already spoken about it. In the conversation earlier, I said to Jack ‘Did you do anything after the match?’ I said the match because he already knew which match I was speaking about.
Jack: Or in the joke at the beginning of the podcast, I said there’s a fly in my soup, but once Rich knew the fly was there my next sentence was ‘but what is the fly doing there’.
Rich: Remember, there are lots of exceptions when we use articles so it’s difficult to give you specific rules. We’ve got some more activities and examples for you to look at in the activities on the page below this podcast.
Rich: This week’s task is a little quiz about articles. We’re going to give you five sentences and you have to decide if you need to use an article and if you do, whether you need to use a, an, or the.
Jack: Think about whether the noun refers to something specific or something general. Right here are the five sentences.
Rich: Number one: I like ______ football.
Jack: Number two: I like watching ______ football on Saturday afternoons.
Rich: Number three: I’m going to watch ______ match between Liverpool and Real Madrid.
Jack: Number four: Have you got ______ car fixed yet?
Rich: Number five: I hadn’t played _____ computer games for ages but _____ one I played the other day was brilliant.
Jack: Write the most common answers in the comments section at the bottom of the page. If you can think of any other possible answers, let us know and describe the situation.
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 all-rounder. It’s a noun that you use to describe a player who can dribble, pass, shoot, attack and defend very well. If a player is strong in all aspects of the game, you can call them an all-rounder.
Rich: You said it was easy, but I think it was quite difficult - only a couple of you got it right so well done to Liubomyr from Ukraine and Lakerwang from China. What’s this week’s football phrase?
Jack: This week’s football phrase is to **** *** (on something). You’ll probably hear this phrase a lot in this next few weeks. Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny is going to **** *** on the World Cup after getting injured last week. It means to not do something or not to take part in something that is usually enjoyable. Some players will **** *** on the World Cup because of injury and some will **** *** because they’re not selected.
Rich: Quite tricky. Let’s see who gets it right? 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: If you have enjoyed this podcast or found it useful, leave us a rating or review and that will help other people find us.
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?
Sorry I had to rush off. I had a date with a curry.
You know, the one on the high street in the centre of town.
There were a few 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.
In this week's podcast, Jack and Rich spoke about articles. You probably already know lots of rules or guides about when to use articles in English. In this podcast, we've tried to concentrate on one difficult idea, the articles we use when we are talking in a general way and when we are talking about something specific. If you'd like to learn more about articles we've got another podcast about articles we did last year that you can take a look at.
General and Specific
When we are talking about things in general, we don't normally use an article before the noun. Take a look at these examples from the podcast:
I don't like curry.
I love spicy food.
We don’t use an article because we don’t use articles when talking about countable or uncountable nouns in a general sense. In the sentences above, we're talking about all curries and all spicy food so we're talking in a general way.
When we are talking about a specific thing, we usually use the definite article (the) before the noun:
I love the curry they cook at the Taj Mahal.
I love the spicy food you can get at Thai supermarkets.
These sentences are very similar to the general sentences above, but we're now talking about a specific curry and some specific food, so we use the definite article (the).
The context (the situation) of a conversation is also very important. We often use the definite article (the) when something is known to both the speaker and the listener. Here are three examples we spoke about in the podcast:
The waiter knows how I like it.
Did you do anything after the match?
What is the fly doing there?
In all three of these situations, the noun was known to the listener, but the reasons are different. In the first sentence, it is known because it is obvious that there are waiters in a restaurant, in the second it is because Rich knew which match Jack had gone to and in the third sentence it is because Jack had spoken about the fly a few seconds earlier (using the indefinite article a).
In the podcast, Jack and Rich spoke about Indian food and Indian restaurants in the UK. Did you know that curry is the most popular dish in the UK? It's even more popular than fish and chips! If you visit the UK, there is a good chance that someone will recommend going to an Indian restaurant. In the podcast, Jack and Rich used a lot of vocabulary you can use at Indian or other types of restaurants. Have a go at the activity below and learn the words.
Complete the sentences
In the podcast, Rich and Jack gave you five sentences. Your task is to complete the sentences either using an article (a, an, the) or leaving the gap blank (no article). Think about the situation of each sentence - is it general or specific? Write your answers in the comments section at the bottom of the page. If you can think of any situations where two or even three options are possible, let us know in the comments.
I like ______ football.
I like watching ______ football on Saturday afternoons.
I’m going to watch ______ match between Liverpool and Real Madrid.
Have you got ______ car fixed yet?
I hadn’t played _____ computer games for ages but _____ one I played the other day was brilliant.
Write your answers in the comments section below.
What do you think?
In this week’s podcast, Jack and Rich spoke about articles and Indian food.
Have you ever tried a curry? Did you like it?
Do you like to try different types of food? Do you prefer to eat food from your own country? Why?
Did you understand the 'jokes' in this podcast? Were they funny?
Look at the task above and write your answers. Also, answer other learner's questions in the comments section below.
Remember to write your guess at this week's football phrase, too!