English

Difference Between Definite Articles and Indefinite Articles

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Main Difference

The main difference between Definite Articles and Indefinite Articles is that Definite Articles refer to the specific noun, whereas Indefinite Articles refer to a non-specific noun.

Definite Articles vs. Indefinite Articles

Definite articles are used before that noun whose identity is not unknown to the reader, while indefinite articles are used before that noun whose identity is unknown or a noun which is general and not described before. The definite article include “The,” while indefinite article include “a” and “an”

In the definite articles “The” is used before a singular or plural noun, on the other hand, In the indefinite articles “a” is used before a singular noun which begins with a consonant sound and in the indefinite article “an” is used before a singular noun which begins with a vowel sound.

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In the definite articles “The” can be used with any noun which is already mentioned to the reader. Contrarily, in the indefinite articles “a” or “an” are used when the noun is not indicated to the reader.

For example, “I ate a mango yesterday. The mango was very juicy.” In this example, when mango is discussed again, the definite article “the” is used as it refers to the specific noun(mango) now; when mango is stated for the first time, the indefinite article “a” is used a noun afore starting with a consonant sound.

The definite articles can be used with singular, plural, and uncountable nouns that are already known to the reader. In contrast, indefinite articles “a” and “an” are used with a singular noun, and one indefinite article “some” is used with plural and uncountable nouns.

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Comparison Chart

Definite ArticlessIndefinite Article
A determiner (the) that refers to specific nouns and noun phrases are called definite articles.A determiner (a, an) that refers to unspecific nouns and noun phrases are called indefinite articles.
Usage
“The” used with singular, plural, countable and uncountable nouns“A, an” used with singular noun and “some” used with uncountable nouns
Refers To
Noun already mentionedNoun not mentioned before
Reader’s View
A noun is known to the readerNoun unknown to the reader
Specifies
Particular nounCommon noun
Example
Give me the orange juice you orderedGive me an orange juice

What are Definite Articles?

The articles that refer to the noun already mentioned to the reader and determiner that specifies any particular are called definite articles.

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The definite article “The” is used for singular, plural, countable, and uncountable nouns when the reader already knows what we are discoursing specifically. When a thing is introduced, indefinite articles “a” or “an” are used, but when the same thing is mentioned again, definite article ”the” is used. The definite article “The” is also used where the clause starts with the word “only.” For example: “The theory of relativity is the basis of physics.” “The” is used with the theory of relativity as it is an unparalleled theory with no alternate.

Definite Article “The” is Used With

  • Family names, e.g., the fleming family
  • Kingdoms(the United Kingdom), republics(the Dominican Republic), island groups( the Jeju Island), states(the United States), plural noun countries(the Philippines), etc.
  • Mountain ranges(the Rocky Mountains), oceans(the Atlantic Ocean), rivers(the Amazon).
  • Newspapers(the New York Times), buildings(the Capitol Building), organizations(the Red Cross), etc.

Definite Article “The” Cannot be Used With

  • Languages, e.g., Italian
  • Professions, e.g., medical
  • Years, e.g., 2000
  • People names, e.g., Alina
  • Possessive case, e.g., Ayesha’s car
  • Meals, e.g., dinner
  • Titles, e.g., Prince Charles

What are the Indefinite Articles?

The indefinite articles are used with the noun, which is not specified. The indefinite article is used with the noun, which is not mentioned before or presented for the first time. It includes “a” and “an.” The determiner “a” is used before a singular noun starting with a consonant sound, while the determiner “an” is used before a singular noun beginning with a vowel sound.

Indefinite articles “a” and “an” are used with singular nouns. There is another uncommon indefinite article “some,” which is used with uncountable nouns. Generally, indefinite articles “a” and “an” are not used with plural or uncountable nouns.

Indefinite articles refer to the thing introduced. It mentions to non-specific nouns. The objective of mention or reference is unclear, which means additional identity is needed to identify the specific purpose.

For example: “A girl was wearing a pink shirt.” The girl is unknown and is mentioned for the first time. So the indefinite article “a” is used as a noun’s sound is consonant. Another example is “ An S.O.W member was quoted in the article.” In this example, S.O.W starts with S, which is consonant, but we will check the consonant sound and vowel sound to use “a” or “an.” S gives vowel sound, so “an” is used.

Key Differences

  1. Definite articles denote specific nouns or noun phrases, whereas indefinite articles denote non-specific nouns or noun phrases.
  2. Definite articles identify the noun already mentioned, while the indefinite articles identify the noun not discussed before.
  3. The definite articles are used with the noun, which is known to the reader in advance; conversely, the indefinite articles are used with the noun, which is unrecognized or new to the reader.
  4. The definite articles include single determiner “the,” whereas indefinite article includes two common determiners “a” and “an.” “Some” is also uncommon indefinite articles.
  5. The definite articles are used with each category of noun, singular, plural, countable or uncountable noun; on the flip side, indefinite articles “a” and “an” are used with singular nouns only. “some” can be used with uncountable and plural nouns.
  6. The definite articles are used with unparalleled or uncommon things like the Sun, the Moon, the Bible, etc. while the indefinite articles are used for common nouns when you are discussing them in general, like, I need a bicycle.
  7. The definite articles can only be used with the “only” clause. Contrarily indefinite articles can be used with any type of clause.
  8. The definite articles are used with rivers, mountains, glaciers, family names, islands, newspapers, organizations, etc. On the other hand, indefinite articles cannot be used with all of the above.
  9. The definite articles are also used with kingdom names, ordinal numbers, and plural country names, whereas indefinite articles are generally not used with them.
  10. The definite articles cannot be used with an individual’s name, professions, years, languages, titles, person’s name, possessive case, and meals, etc. while indefinite articles can be used with them conveniently.

Conclusion

The definite articles such as (the) is used with specific nouns and noun phrases that are already known to the reader; conversely, indefinite articles(a, an) are used with non-specific nouns that are unknown to the reader.

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson

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