Understanding Articles: Advanced Level

Published on May 22, 2018

Understanding Articles: Advanced Level

    If you have already mastered the basic rules and confidently apply them in speech and writing, then it is time to learn some subtleties that are usually considered at high levels. We have prepared for you another cheat sheet, which will help to learn the remaining rules of placement of articles once and for all.

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    Remember the article “the” before ordinal numbers? It is also used in the following expressions (which are also, in general, related to the number and are called ordering expressions or ranking expressions): the next, the last, the latest *, the previous, the following, the penultimate.

    * Useful off topic: Do not forget, the last and latest forms are an excellent degree of late adjective. They have different meanings. Last is the last one that will never happen again. Latest - the last in the meaning of "the freshest", "most relevant". For example, the latest book of JK Rowling, because the writer is still alive and can write other books.


    We know that the “the” is used with superlative adjectives. But both “a / an” and “the” may appear before adjectives of a comparative degree. The rules used are basic. See examples:

    • I like the bigger cup more. (It means that there are two cups, and I like the one that is larger, the specific one).
    • He has a more expensive car than I do. (I'm talking about this car for the first time).

    If you have two objects of comparison, the article “the” will stand before the adjective to a comparative degree. The basic rule also applies here: you choose one particular object from two objects. Example:

    • Lidia and Sheila are both smart. But I think she is the smarter of the two.

    Russian "than ... what" corresponds to the English "the ... the". For example, “the more the better” - “the more the better”.

    If you want to say “most people,” then the “the” before “most” is NOT NEED. In this case, the word “most” is a noun, not a superlative adjective.

    The “the” article appears when you are talking about a class of objects in general.It sounds a bit strange, but the rule is the rule. For example, all musical instruments will be used with the article “the”: I play the violin, and Heidi plays the piano. The same applies to animals: The dog is a smart animal (not specific, but in general). This includes plants, inventions, currencies and parts of the body. However, generalization can be quietly given due to the plural, only then the article is not needed at all: Dogs are smart animals.

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    Markers of the quantity “a few” and “a little” differ in meaning from “a few” and “little”. When an indefinite article is used, these words change from “little” to “little, but enough”. Examples:

    • She has a few good friends, so she's not lonely. (she has enough friends, even though there are a few of them. If you remove the article, the phrase will lose its meaning, because it will turn out “She has few good friends and she is not alone”).
    • I bought out the book I bought yesterday. (I have some free time, which is enough for me to read a book. Without an article, again, the phrase loses its meaning: it turns out that I don’t have time at all, but I still read).

    IMPORTANT: if “only” and “just” type amplifiers are in front of “a few” and “a little” expressions, the value remains in the “little and not enough” channel. Examples:
    • I have only a few minutes to talk to you. (In Russian, in this case, we will say, “I have only a couple of minutes” or “I have literally two minutes”).
    • Jack's got a little time (meaning “Jack had nothing but time to see the city”).
    In general, illnesses in English are not indicated by any articles. But without exception, it would not be so fun.

    With the article “the” the rare names of diseases are used: the measles, the mumps, the bubonic plague and the more common the flu.

    And with the article “a” the names of the more common diseases are used: a cold, a sore throat / back / foot and anything with the word “sore”, a headache / toothache / backache and other diseases –ache, a heart attack, a stroke , a tumor / growth.

    The directions of the cardinal points are used with and without the article. There are clear rules.

    1. If there is a verb before the direction (that is, a word like left, right, south, west, etc.), then the article is not needed at all. For example:

    So we walked south.
    They got confused and drove north of the day.
    Turn left and go along Glow Street.

    2. If there is a preposition in front of the direction, then the “the” article is needed. Examples:

    We decided to walk to the east.
    The shoe shop is on the right.
    Their city is in the north.
    Note: if the words “north”, “south”, “west” and “east” are used to designate a geographical or cultural region (something akin to “East is a delicate matter”), the “the” is needed.
    How did you like the East?
    The West has awesome national parks.
    Remember that time expressions often use the “the” (for example, “in the evening”)? There are expressions before which both articles can be used. Here they are:

    a / the whole day
    a / the whole month
    an / the Entire year
    an / the Entire Decade

    and examples:

    • He spent a whole month in Hawaii. I wish I could do that.
    • I spent last Friday off to go to the doctor. I spent the whole day sitting in his office.
    • She spent an entire year in hospital after that terrible accident.
    • The 1990s were a harsh time in Russia. My relatives spent the whole decade trying to find a way to earn money.

    Do you think that the articles are not used before proper names? In general, yes. But there are curious exceptions.

    1. The article "a" can be used in the meaning of "some." For example, “A Mr. Smith was looking for you ”(a certain Mr. Smith, we have never seen him in his life).

    2. The article “the” may be used in the meaning of “that”. For example:

    -That's her, Kate! The girl I told you about!
    -Oh, THE Kate. (Oh, the same Kate)

    Learn how to understand articles and not only, you can on Puzzle English .