Fall 2001_161(last updated Spring 2004)

Instructor: Buthaina Al Othman


Definite & Indefinite Articles

  • First, I'd like to ask, do we have definite and indefinite articles in Arabic?
    Well, the answer is Yes, we do. However, Articles in Arabic are used in different ways than in English. This is why, most of us, Arabic speakers, make mistakes, sometimes when we use the Articles in English. Actually, the problem is that we try to use Articles in English the same way we do in Arabic, and this is why it doesn't work!
  • So, here are some tips:
  1. Never think in Arabic when you are using English. The two languages are extremely different in many ways.
  2. When an English expression or an idiom doesn't make sense to you, this means it probably doesn't exist in our Arabic culture or the culture of a learner, in general.
  3. Therefore, learning about the culture of a language you are learning is very important, since it can help you understand and know more about the customs and the traditions of a nation.
  4. In our case, we need to learn more about American English culture in order to understand the way thoughts are expressed in American English.
  5. The above tips can make the learning process of a language easier than ever. (Movies and songs can tell us more about cultures).
  • Indefinite article: (A / An)

    1.      We must use an indefinite article, A or An, when a countable noun is used in the singular form.

    Example of countable nouns:

    Rock,Table, Book, Lab,Country,Thermometer, Desert,Computer, Anesthetic, Horse,Elephant.

    1. A horse is a mammal.
    2. A computer is a device.
    3. An elephant is a mammal.
    4. An anesthetic is a drug.

2. When countable nouns are used in the plural form, they don’t need an article.


      1. Horses and elephants are mammals.
      2. Computers are devices.
      3. Deserts are dry regions.
      4. Anesthetics are drugs.
  •   Definite article: (The)

    1.      The Definite article, the, is used when we need to talk about or refer to something that we are all familair with.

    For example: The Earth, the sun, the White House.

    The concept is that people everywhere share similar basic information about our planet, Earth and the White House; therefore, we use , the, to coinfirm that we are refering to the planet where we all live or to the White House where the President of the US lives and works.

For more illusteration, read this:

A number of meetings were held in the White House, recently.

Now, read this, and notice the difference:

You can see that most of the houses, recently built in our area are white. It must feel good to live in a white house, in a hot country, like Kuwait.

E.g. The Earth is round.

However, we don't need to use, the, with Jupitar, Mars, or Venus, since we don't share enough information about them or becasue our level of knowledge about these planets are different.

E.g. Men from Mars and Woemn from Venus.

2. We need to use, the, whenever we talk about or refer to parts of the human body: heart, hand, brain, eyes, etc.. The concept here is that when we refer to any part of the human body we are actually talking about the same heart that each person and not a particular human heart.

    E.g.    The human heart is an organ that keeps up the circulation of the blood in the body.

    Notice that, The human heart , the blood, and the body refer to every human heart, blood and body and not those belonging to one person.

    Here is another example:

    b)      The arm usually has a hand attached to it. ( When we add The beofre arm, we mean all human arms, and not a particular arm).

3. The is used before superlative nouns.


a)      Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system.

b)      The Arabian gulf is the nearest sea to Kuwait.

  • Uncountable Nouns: Water, Salt, Pepper, Sand, Air,Information

    Uncountable nouns have one form. They don't need indefinite articles, a/an, to indicate singular forms, or the suffixes, s /ies, at the end of a word to indicate plural forms.

    How can we express singular forms for uncountable nouns?

    We can express a singular form for an uncountable noun by using units of measurement.


a)   You should drink a lot of water in summer. (Expressing plural form).

b) I would like to have a glass/bottle of water, please. (Expressing singular form)

How can we express pliral forms for uncountable nouns?

We can express a plural form for an uncountable noun by using certain expressions or quantifiers, such as, a lot of, few, a few, a great deal of, several, some..etc..


c) A computer is a device that is used for saving a great deal of information. (Expressing plural form).

d) I don’t have any piece of information about the earthquake that occured in Japan, in July 2003. (Expressing singular form).

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2001 Buthaina Al Othman