Indefinite article in English: rules of use, examples
English language learners often have questions about the nature of articles and the rules for using them. Both the definite and the indefinite article are absent in the Russian language. That is why their understanding and causes problems, bewilderment, and hence mistakes.
This article is devoted to the indefinite article of the English language and its differences from the specific.
Article a (an) is a word that combines several functions.
First, it is the label of the noun. In English, often the words of another part of speech are formed from the original in a non-suffix way. These are so-called converses: they sound and are written in exactly the same way and differ, in addition to the meaning, only by the syntactic role (that is, by why they are used in the sentence).Suppose face is, firstly, a noun (face, appearance, image), and secondly - a verb (be face to face, look in the face, face (face to face)). The article a (an) before the word “marks” it as a noun (a face). It may not stand directly in front of the lexeme that designates an object or phenomenon, but in front of the one that defines it (a nice face).
Replacing the word "one"
At the same time, only those nouns that designate counted objects may have an indefinite article in English. Examples: a cat, a dog, a girl. Before the names denoting unreadable objects (abstract, real, collective) it is not put. In this case, the indefinite article is used only with words in the singular, in fact, being a substitute for the word "one". Before the same word in the plural it is not used. For example: a face - faces ((one) face - faces). Here we see that “a” marks the singular noun, and the ending –s is the plural noun. It is the article in the first case and the ending in the second case that provide us with information that we are talking about 1) about a noun, 2) that it means objects to be counted, and 3) about (singular or plural).
How this information is transmitted in Russian
In Russian, the part-word belonging of a word is transmitted by its appearance as a whole: in a speech flow, any medium easily and unconsciously distinguishes lexemes that designate objects and phenomena, from indications of their qualities and attributes (adjectives), from the notation of actions (verbs) and their signs ( adverbs), etc.
Nouns denoting counted objects form, in contrast to collective, abstract and real, plural forms and are combined with cardinal numbers (cf. ball, balls, six balls, but: children, fuss, flour).
The number of "counted" names is determined in Russian at the end (cat - cats).
In a complex set of meanings conveyed by an indefinite article, the most difficult to understand native Russian speaker is the meaning of uncertainty. What it is? Who and who is “not defined”? Here we need to talk about two sides of the issue.
Prevalence versus uniqueness
First, a / an indicates the prevalence of the designated object, while the - indicates uniqueness.Let's say cat is accompanied by a, because there are many cats, and the Sun - the, since the Sun is one. In addition, the indefinite article is not put before the names, that is, with proper names, since such lexemes are designed specifically to highlight the subject, to indicate it as a definite.
In Russian, a similar allocation of unique objects is indicated graphically: by capital letter.
Any one of some, as opposed to this particular, given
Finally, a / an indicates the place of an object or phenomenon in a dialogue or monologue, and this is where the greatest difficulties are associated with the use of an indefinite article. Meanwhile, this side of meanings can also be comprehended through analogies with the Russian - non-articulate language.
By uncertainty in this case is meant the non-release of a certain object from the series of the same. “An apple” means any apple, any apple, in general, one of the apples, no matter which one. “The apple” means that same apple, this particular one, which has already been discussed, is given. As you can see from these examples, both the definite and the indefinite article convey such meanings, which are quite simply and variously conveyed by means of the Russian language.
Article meaning of the word "one"
Moreover, in our language one can find such examples of the use of the word “one”, which indicate that its meaning can be close or similar to article reference. Suppose we often begin our story with sentences like: “A girl lived in one city”, or even: “One little girl lived in one city”, or: “Once a mother’s friend came to our house”. This use of the word "one" is very standard. Why do we pronounce it? It seems redundant and not entirely justified.
We note that later in the story we do not use it in the same meaning next to this word and very often almost immediately replace it with “this”: “There were many cats in this city”, “And this girl loved cats very much” "And this mother's friend brought us gifts."
The words "one" and "this" here are grammatically antonyms. The first one introduces the subject, the character into the narration, the second points to it as already defined, which was already discussed above.
Approximately the definite and indefinite article in English is also used. The rule can be formulated as follows:asimilar to the word "one", butthe- "This." With the help of an indefinite article, the phenomenon that is first introduced into the dialogue is marked, and it is indicated to certain that it is a question of that subject about which it was spoken earlier. Conversely, if there is no label of certainty in the text, it means that we are still talking about a certain object that is not isolated from the circle of the same ones. For example, if during the article about a dog the author says “a cat”, then, most likely, every time he means any cat, whatever it is. If “the” is used, then it’s about a specific, single cat.
In this sense, the indefinite article of the English language and the Russian word “one” will often be signs of the beginning of a story or a new episode, and the definite article and “this”, “that same” - signs of continuation.
Other analogies with the Russian language
To better imagine the essence of a definite and indefinite article, you can think about the difference of Russian sentences with different word order.
- A girl came out of the house.
- The girl left the house.
If we imagine that both of these sentences are part of the texts (namely, in the context and situation the meaning of the article can be realized), then it will be clear whether the house or the girl was discussed above in both cases.
In the first case, something was already mentioned above about the house, and it was from that very house that a girl came out (some, first mentioned). In the second author, something has already been said about the girl, who has now come out of (some, not mentioned before) home.
Therefore, most likely, the following translation would be correct:
- A girl came out from the house.
- The girl came out from a house.
If, however, it will be necessary to translate the sentences with two indefinite articles into Russian (A girl came out from a house), then, apparently, in Russian it can be expressed as follows: "A girl came from one house." If we are talking about educational constructions (sentences out of context), in which the meaning of the articles cannot be fully realized, then we can translate differently: "The girl left the house" or "The girl came out of the house".
Thus, although in the Russian language there is no such part of speech as the article, nevertheless, it is largely adapted to transmit the same meanings that are given in the English lexeme a / an and the. For the proper use of English articles, it is enough to penetrate into their essence. It is worth remembering, however, that in any language other than the logic of meaning, the logic of the norm also acts when a rule gives way to tradition or a stamp.The British themselves often admit that in many cases they use this or that article intuitively.