Articles – A, An, The

You cannot refer to a singular countable noun on its own. It is usually used preceded by an article. Articles refer to indefinite articles – a, an – and the definite article the.


When the countable noun is mentioned for the first time, you use an indefinite article “a” for words beginning with a closed sound or “an” if the noun begins with an open sound. However, when a countable noun is mentioned for the second time, it is usually preceded by the definite article “the”.

  • I saw a cat yesterday.
  • She needs a home care, immediately.
  • Please select a medicine that you like.


Use “an” just as you use “a” for their meaning but be selective. You use “an” before a noun that starts with an open sound. Open sounds are those we produce with an open mouth, open teeth, free tongue!

Below, check the position of your tongue when the first sound of the following nouns are are produced:

Word First sound Mouth Teeth Tongue A/An
Apple Aa Open Open Free An
Orange O Open Open Free An
Man Mm Closed Open Free A
University Yoo 90% closed 80% closed 80% free A


  1. She wore a pretty pink dress
  2. I saw tigers in a zoo.
  3. He is not good as an actor
  4. An apple a day builds immunity.


The usage of “the” can be easily understood if you understand what “the” means. The means one of the three:

  1. “As we both know.”
  2. “As you already know.”
  3. As I have already said.”


Sentence Meaning
I found the luggage that I had lost. Already lost / already mentioned
I appreciated the honesty of the doctor. The honesty the speaker already experienced
The baby and mother are being discharged today. The baby and mother already mentioned above.
Please take me to the doctor near the market. I’m not feeling well. The doctor I have told you about / the doctor you already know.
Where are the notes I shared with you yesterday? The notes that I shared with you.

Take Special Note!

All of these conditions do not take an article:

Correct Incorrect
She has cancer She has the cancer
Mr Joe has had hypertension form many years. Mr Joe has had the hypertension form many years.
Parkinson’s disease is common in some states of the US. The Parkinson’s disease is common in some states of the US.

Do not use “the” before these disease names:

  • Dementia
  • Chron’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Jaundice
  • Eczema

Articles with Procedures:

Correct Correct
She is waiting for a blood test. The blood test ruled out any potential illness.
A stool sample is required to proceed. The stool sample is sent to the lab.
An ultrasound was performed. The ultrasound results are awaited.

Abstract Nouns in OET

Abstract nouns are not people or places or things because we cannot see, touch, smell or hear abstract nouns. Here is a list of some abstract nouns and their meanings. You cannot use a definite adjectives (a, an, some, few, many, several, etc.) before an abstract noun.

  • Incorrect: She needs an assistance
  • Correct: She needs assistance.

What about using an / a before abstract nouns?

Correct Incorrect
Ms Lee has a habit of smoking. Ms Lee has habit of smoking.
She was admitted following a fall. She was admitted following fall.
She has a scheduled appointment. She has scheduled appointment.

NB: How many “surgery” can a patient undergo on a single day? Usually 1? So, why should we say, “she underwent an appendectomy this morning?”

At the same time, the following words are correct when written with or without a / an:

Correct Correct
Ms Parker had fever. Ms Parker had a fever.
Hospital is a place you recover. A hospital is a place you recover.
She developed productive cough. She developed a productive cough.
Case notes. A case notes.
She underwent surgery on Monday. She underwent a surgery on Monday.
Mr Parker needs homecare. Mr Parker needs a homecare.
She underwent polypectomy. She underwent a polypectomy.
He was busy with ongoing surgery. He was busy with an ongoing surgery
He has allergy to nuts.
He has an allergy to nuts.

That’s all. Proceed to the Quiz now!

  • Today, she complained of chest tightness and pain which radiated to the shoulder and the neck.
  • The pain score was 8/10 which did not relieve with buscopan, panadol or nitroderm patch.
  • For the past two months, Mrs Marshal has experienced epigastric and shoulder pain which subsided with pain medications. 
  • Mrs Anderson was admitted on 16th of this month with the definitive symptoms of the diagnosis along with a remarkable weight loss of 6 pounds in the week prior to admission.

Written by Biju John

Love for English begins with understanding its unknown rules. Biju John lives on the internet, teaching OET, IELTS and PTE. More than a million students have thanked him from their heart.

Countable Subjects

Passive Sentences