Column: An article on articles


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

No, this isn’t going to be some kind of meta article on the state of newspaper journalism, nor is it about the Greek god of creative painting, Articles (OK, I just made that up). Instead, today we’re talking about articles, which are special kinds of adjectives that are always used with—and give some information about—a noun.

In English, we have three articles: a, an and the. A and an are considered indefinite articles, which refer to any member of a group. Remember, a and an = any. Use “a” before words that begin with consonants. For example: The cat had a fifth leg which dangled freely on the left side of her body. Use “an” before words that begin with vowels. For example: Lance is an amateur taxidermist, specializing in stuffing animals that have extra limbs.

In contrast, English’s one definite article (the) comes before a noun when you’re referring to something specific and precise. It makes sense that we have one definite article; it’s the only one. For example: Have you shaved the dog? In this instance, you’re not referring to just anyone’s dog (your neighbor might not be happy if you showed up and shaved his dog); you’re referring to “the” dog, probably yours.

When referring to a noncount noun (a noun that usually can’t be expressed in a plural form), use “the” or omit the article altogether. The juice squirted out my nose when I heard the punchline (some specific juice, maybe the orange juice you just juiced that morning). To make matters worse, I spilled juice all over the floor (any juice). When referring to a count noun (a noun that can be expressed in plural form, usually with an “s”), use “a” or “an.” I needed a new glass of juice after the earlier incident. Here, “a” modifies the noun “glass.”

Certain types of nouns do not take an article. These include names of sports (curling, gymnastics, synchronized swimming), names of languages and nationalities (Canadian, Ghanaian, Swedish) and names of academic subjects (history, mathematics, botany).

I could probably devote several more articles to articles. I’m not sure if I even scratched the surface on them. I certainly scratched a surface, but definitely not all of the surfaces. You get what I mean.

Curtis Honeycutt is a nationally syndicated humor writer. Connect with him on Twitter (@ or at