Gobbled-up articles

A-an-the-definite-indefinite-article-testI’m just back from Islamabad, where I trained several enthusiastic groups of Pakistani professionals. Their English was good–one introduced herself as a fan of ‘Orwellian’ English, meaning plain-speaking language not the Big Brother type. The participants’ thinking and their expertise was impressive. Perhaps their brains respond well to all the articles they ‘gobble up’, as another participant put it. I tried to help these Urdu native speakers work out when to use ‘the’ or ‘a/an’, articles that their own language doesn’t have, but which in English do matter. Proper use of the definite and indefinite article can add important information to a sentence, such as whether you want to go to the movie that wins the Oscar or any movie that’s showing right now.

One way — not infallible, because English is so complicated — to decide which article to use is to ask:

is this noun one of one or one of many?

The movie that wins the Oscar is one of one; the movie showing right now is one of many. The first movie needs a ‘the’; the second an ‘a’.

For what it’s worth, my choice for the best film is one about the power of the printed word [these two ‘the’s‘ refer to all power and all words, something that is most certainly definite] called Spotlight [no article because you can’t quantify light].

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *