Generalizations / Non-Specific References - When to Use "a," "the," or plural "s"


This help page is divided into the following categories:



People learning English as a second language often have trouble knowing when and when not to use articles. Often, this is because the learner does not know whether the noun was countable (and whether the countable known is plural or singular) or uncountable.  It is important to know count versus non-count nouns.

The following tables summarize nicely when, and which, articles to use under these conditions.  After the tables are web references to sites that provide additional information as well as quizzes:


Articles and Pluralization with Countable Nouns

Countable nouns are either singular or plural:



Article Noun
a. General Singular a computer
  Plural - computers
b. Non-specific Singular a computer
  Plural some computers
c. Specific Singular the computer
  Plural the computers
  • Countable nouns can take a, the or plural s.
  • Notice that articles are not utilized when using direct objects in general For example, “I enjoy making doughnuts.” (correct) and not “I enjoy making the doughnuts.” (incorrect).


Articles with Uncountable Nouns 

Uncountable nouns do not have a plural form:













  • Uncountable nouns can take the or no article at all.
  • Use the definite article “the” for specific references. For example, “The advice my professor gave me was useful.”
  • Notice that indefinite articles (a, an) are not used with uncountable nouns.




Now that you have received the brief explanation, here are some external references. These references provide additional explanation, examples, and self-administered quizzes that you can do to test your own knowledge:

Resource Comments

When to Use Articles Before Nouns (Grammar Girl's Quick & Dirty Tips)


If you need a short explanation on this topic, then this is the website for you. The site covers the topics of nouns that need determiners (countable singular nouns), and nouns that don't need determiners (proper nouns, plural nouns, mass nouns).

Is the noun countable or uncountable? (Monash University's "Language & Learning Online") 


this is a very comprehensive website that discusses the importance of determining whether or not a noun is countable or uncountable, article usage with (un)countable nouns, general reference and generalizations, as well as specific and non-specific references.  IMPORTANT: use the Table of Contents that is located on the left-hand side of the screen to navigate about.

Count and Non-Count Nouns (The Guide to Grammar and Writing)


This site provides an alternative explanation to the other resources, above, and it also offers exercises at the bottom of the page.

Editing for Articles (with exercises & answers) (Douglas College)


This handout does not explain the grammar of articles in detail. Instead, it gives students strategies for finding article errors in their writing and fixing them. This is a very clear and printable document on this topic.



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