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Each of the articles – a, an, the – can be used before a countable noun. Unlike a and an, the article the can come before an uncountable noun. The three articles are commonly used to begin a sentence. There are some words that can be used before the articles.

 

Articles before a countable noun.

The three articles are used here before a countable noun or before an adjective followed by a noun. The nouns used here are goal, priestapplefriendfireworks, and building.

Examples:

  • 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 is a must after dinner.
  • An old friend of mine was released from prison last week.
  • The high-rise building was gutted by fire.
  • The bright meteor lit up the sky.

 

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.

Examples:

  • 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 sales person 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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Examples:

  • Many time he would talk when his mouth was full.
  • Half an orange is not enough for me.
  • What an awful lot of difference it will make to my life if I fail the exam.
  • All the puppies got stolen.
  • Both the papers had difficult and stupid questions.
  • How much money have you lost with your wallet?