When to use definite and indefinite articles in English
One easy mistake to make is using the wrong article. People will understand you but you won’t sound as professional to native speakers. It’s extremely important because articles are used so frequently. You can’t avoid them! Here is a simple breakdown of the difference between these very common articles that will help you understand which context to use them in.
Definite Article = THE
A definite article is specific to a previous reference or there is only one in the context of the sentence.
THE is the definite article meaning there is only one word and it is specifically ‘the’.
Specific time periods:
The 90s were a bizarre time filled with bizarre boy bands.
The Lakers aren’t actually that good of a team.
Cindy! Get your stuff off of the table it’s dinner time.
Are you with me so far?
Indefinite Articles = A, AN
These articles are used in more general contexts. ‘A’ is used before singular nouns beginning with a consonant (i.e. a girl) and ‘an’ is used before singular nouns beginning with a vowel (i.e. an apple).
Do you have a pencil I could borrow, please?
Do you have an eraser?
Adverbial phrases of time or quantity:
She seems to have gone a little crazy.
Give me just a minute and I’ll be right there.
Pretty straight forward, right?
So, the rule of thumb to remember here is the is specific and a, an are general.