i am a graduate student need to help about an article "a" "an" and "the"?
The smallest words always cause the biggest headaches...

"The" refers to a particular, individual thing. For instance "where is the key?" (I don't want just any key, I want that particular key) or "Paris is the capital of France" (France has only one capital, and it's Paris). If I say "the water is cold", I am referring to the river I am swimming in, or the bathtub of water I am about to get into - not to water in general. If I say "is the food good at your hotel?", I use "the" because I am referring to the food at your particular hotel, not to food in general. Or I might say "he is the fastest runner in the world" (there can only be one fastest runner).

"A", on the other hand, is used to refer to one thing, but without knowing (or caring) which particular thing it is. For example "I saw a car" (there are lots of cars, and it could have been any one) or "Paris is a capital city" (there are lots of capital cities, even though Paris is the capital of France).

One other complication: "the" can refer both to things you can count (keys, capital cities) and to things you can't count (water, food). But "a" can only refer to things you can count. So I can't say "I need a water to wash with" (I would say "I need water to wash with").

"An" is really the same as "a". However, when the word after it begins with a vowel, you use "an" rather than "a" ("he is an Egyptian", "it is an ant"). It just makes it easier to pronounce and to understand: try saying "an aircraft" - it's easier than "a aircraft"). "An" is also sometimes used before some words that start with "h", again because it's easier to pronounce ("an historical event" is easier to say than "a historical event"); in these cases, the "h" is often not pronounced (so, you would say "an istorical event" - the "h" gets lost). However, this isn't a rigid rule - you can also say "a historical event".
Anonymouswhen the word after it begins with a vowel, you use "an" rather than "a"
Note that this means when the word begins with a vowel sound, not necessarily a vowel letter. 'Umbrella' begins with a vowel sound, so 'an umbrella'. 'University' begins with a consonant sound, so 'a university'.
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"an historical event"
Hi Anonymous,
I am a bit confused; do you mean to say that the H in the word historical is not pronounced? I didn't know that and I guess all this time I've been pronouncing it incorrectly. I am aware that words beginning with a mute "h" (an hour) take "an" as an indefinite article but I've always thought that the h in historical is pronounced. So I have to assume then that to write a historical event is wrong.Emotion: tongue tied What about words such as horse, or house... ?
There are regional variations on a lot of the H words.
I say "an 'istorical" but others say "a historical." With "historic" and "historical" you have a choice..

In the US, "herb" is "an 'erb" and the H is silent. In the UK, the H is pronounced,

Grammar Geek:There are regional variations on a lot of the H words.
I say "an 'istorical" but others say "a historical." With "historic" and "historical" you have a choice..

Thank you so much for clearing that up.
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