The articles – a, an, the – are used before a countable noun. Unlike a and an, the article the can come before an uncountable noun. There are some words we may use before the articles.

 

Articles before a countable noun.

All three articles a, an, the are used before a countable noun or before an adjective followed by a noun. We commonly use them to begin a sentence. The nouns used here are goal, priest, apple, friend, fireworks, and building.

  • A last-minute goal put them through to the final. (Last-minute is an adjective)
  • A priest was called in to exorcise the ghost.
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
  • An old friend of mine was released from prison last week. (Old is an adjective)
  • The fireworks lit up the sky.
  • The high-rise building was gutted by fire. (High-rise is an adjective)
 

Article before an uncountable noun.

The is the only article that is used before an uncountable noun. It can be anywhere in a sentence except at the end. The uncountable nouns used here are butter, flesh, sand, snow, cream, and skin.

  • The butter melted in the heat.
  • The flesh of the fruit is white.
  • The sand was then mixed to the cement.
  • They are playing in the snow.
  • The salesperson claimed the cream made the skin age more slowly.
 

We cannot use a before an uncountable noun, but we can if we have a measured quantity of the uncountable noun. For example, it's wrong to say or write 'a cheese'. Instead, we can use 'a chunk/hunk/lump/piece/slice of cheese'.

  • A block of ice
  • A cube of sugar
  • A hunk of cheese
  • A layer of dirt
  • A piece of cloth
  • A pinch of salt
  • A slice of bread

(For more, see List 2 - Uncountable Nouns made Countable)

 

Words that come before the articles.

  • Many a time he would talk when his mouth was full.
  • How much money have you saved? Quite a bit.
  • Half an orange is enough for me.
  • What an awful lot of difference it will make to my life if I don't pass the exam.
  • All the puppies got stolen.
  • Both the papers had difficult questions.
  • No, we don't have to walk that far. Rather the opposite in fact.