Basically, there are two types of articles in English: the definite article (the) and the indefinite (a/an). The definite article specifies a particular individual; the indefinite article indicates that the following noun is a member of a class.
(For information about a short work of nonfiction, see Article [Composition].)
Etymology:From the Latin, "joint, article"
Examples and Observations:
- "On the one hand, the behaves very much like the demonstratives this, that, these and those, and the possessives such as my, your, his and our; and on the other hand, a behaves quite like an unstressed version of the numeral one."
(J. R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994)
- "The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence."
(H. L. Mencken)
- "A case can be made for the poet giving some of his life to the use of the words the and a: both of which are weighted with as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve."
- "The terms definite and indefinite designate meanings associated with the noun that an article precedes. Definite implies that a noun is 'specifically identifiable.' The use of the definite article, the, therefore, presupposes that the speaker and the listener can identify the noun that follows it. . . .
"Indefinite means 'identifiable in general.' The indefinite article, a/an, occurs when the listener is not expected to be able to identify the object specifically. The listener may know the concept represented by the noun, but that is all."
(Ron Cowan, The Teacher's Grammar of English: A Course Book and Reference Guide . Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008)
- "The definite and indefinite article, a.k.a. the and the duo of a and an, field the smallest roster of any part of speech but the biggest per-word punch. The is the most commonly used word in the English language, occurring nearly 62,000 times in every million words written or uttered--or about once in every 16 words. . . . A, meanwhile, places fifth and an comes in at thirty-fourth. . . .
"As for meaning, the differences between using a and the and omitting the article altogether (which linguists call the 'zero article' . . .) are so manifold and complicated that most grammar books take a pass on going into them and take the easy way out. That is, they say something to the effect that by the age of four, native English speakers know in their bones the difference between 'I drank Coke,' 'I drank the Coke,' and 'I drank a Coke,' and the fact that you take a pass but the easy way out."
(Ben Yagoda, When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It. Broadway Books, 2007)
- "Emails and text messages are slowly leading the way to the elimination of 'the' and 'a' from the English language. Until they disappear completely, it is important to use them correctly in scientific English."
(Tim Skern, Writing Scientific English: A Workbook. UTB, 2009)