Grammargiri – Usage of A (AN) vs. The

A (An)

  • A and AN are called indefinite articles.
  • Indefinite means not specific.
  • Use A(AN) when you are talking about a thing in general, NOT a specific thing.


  • I need a phone. Not a specific phone, any phone.
  • Use A(AN) when talking about a thing which is new, unknown, or introduced to a listener for the first time.
  • Also use A(AN) when you are asking about the existence of something.


  • I have a car. The car is being introduced for the first time.
  • Similarly, use A(AN) to introduce what type of thing we are talking about.


  • That is an excellent book. Describing the kind of book.


  • THE is called a definite article.
  • Definite means Specific.
  • Use THE when talking about something which is already known to the listener or which has been previously mentioned, introduced, or discussed.


  • I have a cat. The cat is black.
  • There is a book in my backpack. The book is very heavy.
  • Do you know where I left the car keys? The listener knows which specific car keys you are talking about.
  • Many clauses and phrases make the noun known to the listener by telling the listener which person or thing we are talking about.


  • Can you give me the book on the table.
  • We use THE in this sentence because the phrase On the table tells the listener which book we are referring to.
  • We are not talking about other books, we are talking about a specific book that the listener can see or already knows about.
  • Learning to recognize such identifying clauses and phrases will help you use THE correctly.

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