i learned before I even graduated from college what problem all people who study English as a second language have. Initially, I didn’t know how to explain it, but I recognized from helping my friends who were international students from several countries that they all had the same problem. That is, they don’t know where to put “the,” “a,” “an,” or “s.” If you are a native speaker of English, you instinctively know where to put these things, and I wasn’t taught in my classes how to explain to the students where to put these things. I had to reason it out and learn how to explain it for my students, and once I did, they began getting it right. To begin with, it doesn’t matter if you are a speaker of English as a second language or a native speaker, proofread everything you write before anyone sees it, and you will be able to catch the problems. It took time for me to get good a proofreading, but it has really paid off.
If you are writing English as a second language, learn to check all the nouns before you decide you are finished with something. A noun is a person, place, or thing. Examples of nouns are words like these: book, mother, country, friend, Korea, Mrs. Kim, cookie, pen, etc. There are two kinds of nouns: nouns you can count and nouns you can’t count.
Of the nouns you can’t count, they may be proper nouns or regular nouns, Proper nouns are names of people, places, and things. Some examples of proper nouns would be: Mrs. Kim, Korea, Oklahoma, Korean, American, English. Proper nouns must be capitalized. They can never take “”a,” however, they could take “the,” but not often. They only take “the” if you are making them separate. An example of this would be there are many Mrs. Kims in Korea, so you might have to say, the Mrs. Kim who comes to my church.” However, usually, don’t use “the” with these nouns or “s.” The nouns you can’t count are nouns like water, air, gas, Coca Cola, milk, etc. These nouns need no article. An article is “the” “a,” or “an.” They also don’t take “s.” However, if you are talking about special water or something else, you may use “the, An example of this would be “the water in my glass” or “the water in the Pacific Ocean.” Another good example is “The air in this room smells bad.” That is specific air. All air doesn’t smell bad, but the air in that one room does. That is why you need “the.”
The nouns that need “a,” “an,” ‘the,” or “s” are called count nouns. You can count them. Examples of these kinds of nouns are: pen, book, television, finger, nose, road, store, teacher, student, country, language, etc. “A” and “an” simply mean “one,” any one, not a special one. If I say “a pen is on a book,” it could be any pen and any book, not a special pen or a special book. If I say “The pen is on the book,” it means that we are looking at just one pen and one book, and we all know which one I am talking about. Perhaps I am pointing to the book. If I say, “The language they speak in Romania is Romanian,” I am talking about a particular language, so I need “the” before language. “Romania” and “Romanian” are both proper nouns, so they don’t need an article. If I said, “A language is difficult to learn,” that means any language you decide to study is difficult to learn.
If the noun begins with a vowel, then you need to use “an” instead of “a.” A vowel is “a, e, i, o , or u.” If I want to talk about any apple, I can say, “An apple is good for you.” That means any apple, any apple. I can also say, “An umbrella is needed when it rains.” That means one umbrella, any umbrella. If I use an adjective in front of the noun that doesn’t begin with a vowel, then I use “a.” An example of this is, ” A pink umbrella makes little girls happy.” Another example: “A green apple can make your stomach hurt.” If the adjective begins with a vowel, then I must use “an” again: “An unlearned rule may be a rule that is broken.” “Rule” is the count noun, and “unlearned” is an adjective that begins with a vowel, so you need “an” because “rule” is a count noun and “unlearned” begins with a vowel.
If you want to make any of these nouns special, they need a “the” before them. An example would be: “The red book is mine.” It makes that book special. You are not talking about a blue book or a yellow book. You are talking only about the one book that is red. You can also say, “The beautiful girl walked down the street.” “Girl” is the count noun. “Beautiful” is an adjective telling about the girl. You are talking about only one beautiful girl, not any other beautiful girl, so you need “the.” If you said, “Beautiful girls walked down the street,” that means a group of beautiful girls.
The “s” means there is more than one. You usually don’t put “s” on a non count noun, but a count noun: “a book” or “the book” becomes “books” or “the books.” “a book” = “one book,” not a special one. “the book” = one book, a special or particular one. “Books” means all books. “The books” means more than one book, and they are particular or special books.
A problem comes in if the noun ends with a consonant and then a “y.” A consonant is anything that is not a vowel. If there is a vowel and then a “y,” just add the “s” to make it more than one. However, if there is a consonant, and then a “y,” you have to take that “y” off the noun, and then add “ies” instead of just “s.” An example of this is the word “folly.” If you have more than one “folly,” you must write it as “follies.” Another example is “penny.” If you have more than one “penny,” and you want to make it more than one, you must write “pennies.” However, if the letter before that “y” is a vowel, don’t to this, just add the “s.”
Again, you are wanting to make a word plural. Plural means more than one. However, that word ends with “ch,” “sh,” “s,” “x,” or “z.” There are special rules for these too. You have to add “e” before you add the “s”: “match” becomes “matches; “mesh” becomes “meshes,” and “mix” becomes “mixes.” If it ends with a “z,” you are going to have to give it another “z” before you add the “es” : “quiz” becomes “quizzes.”
If you use “this, that, these, or those” before your noun, don’t use an article. However, if you use “these” or “those,” you will want to add the “s.” There are special words that have special plural forms also” “child” becomes “children,” “person” becomes “people,” “woman” becomes “women,” “man” becomes “men,” and “fish” becomes “fish.” Yes, you don’t need anything on the end of “fish” to make it plural. There are always exceptions in English because English comes from several other languages, and sometimes the rules from other languages have been applied when they borrowed the word. Sometimes the exceptions are there also because a word has been used so much that it has its own special form. If you use a possessive pronoun before a noun, you don’t need “a,” “an,” or “the,” but you could use “s.” A possessive pronoun is a word like these: my, your, his, her, its, our, their. Don’t use an “a, “an” or an “s” when you are using a gerund that is a noun, but if you want to make it specific, then use “the.” Examples of gerunds: running, going, talking, hearing.
Directions: Choose if these words need “a,” the,” “an,” or “s.” If letters need to be added to make them right, add the letters. The answers are at the end. If there is a blank, but there is nothing needed there, just put an X.
- _______ big book is on the shelf.
- _______verb quiz____ are fun.
- ______count noun needs “a,” “an,” the,” or “s.”
- _______Spanish takes a lot of studying to learn.
- How many Latin language____are there?
- My mother has _____ big garden in her back yard.
- I am calling Mother, but she doesn’t answer ______ phone.
- How many fish_____did you catch today?
- ______original movie was better than the remake of the movie.
- ______original story is always preferred,
- ______talking was just too loud.
- ______talking too loud is annoying.
- ______store was crowded today.
- ______listening to music makes me feel good.
- ______dolls from Japan look very regal.
- I like to drink ______water.
- I like to drink ______water from my water filter.
- Where is ______Romania?
- Where is ______Romanian dictionary?
- ______jumping on the bed is _____dangerous thing to do.
Answers: 1. the 2. the, quizzes 3. a 4. X 5. s 6. a 7. the 8. X 9. the 10. An or The 11. The 12. X “Talking” should begin with a capital letter. 14. the 15. X “Listening” should begin with a capital letter. 16. The 17. X 18. the 19. X 20. the 21. X “Jumping” should begin with a capital letter. “a.”