One of the most common mistakes in IELTS Writing is incorrect use of articles.
Mastering the three articles in English will give your writing a band score boost.
There are two categories of article: definite and indefinite.
Definite Article – “the”
The definite article ‘the’ is used to introduce a certain or particular noun. In short, the noun being talked about is familiar to both the speaker/writer and the listener/reader.
See the example below:
Susan: Did you enjoy the party?
Nina: Yes, I did!
In the example above, both Susan and Nina refer to a particular party. Nina knows which party is being mentioned by Susan. It could be a birthday party they both attended. Only they know about it.
Another simple way to learn the use of the definite article (I just underlined ‘the’, as I’m assuming you already know that I’m talking about ‘the’) is to consider if the subject or object in a sentence is really popular. For example:
Police: Have you seen the criminal?
In this example, we use ‘the’ since the people already know who the criminal is. They may or may not know the name, but it doesn’t matter anymore.
Indefinite Article – “a” or “an”
The indefinite article ‘a’ (used if the succeeding noun starts with a consonant as in: a bag) or ‘an’ (used if the succeeding noun starts with a vowel as in: an apple) is used to talk about a noun that only the speaker/writer knows. So, the listener/reader doesn’t have any idea which exactly is being talked about. For instance:
Susan: I have a secret.
Nina: What is it?
Mike: I have an ambition.
Teacher: Can you tell me about it?
In the examples above, Nina (the listener) has no idea about what Susan is talking about. In short, ‘a secret’ is not really particular or certain. The teacher, however, asks what Mike’s ambition is. So, only Mike knows what it is unless he decides to share it.
When not to use these articles
The last salient point to bear in mind is when not to use these three articles. Some IELTS Test candidates tend to use an article when it is not necessary. The way to avoid this sort of error in IELTS Writing is to remember that a proper noun and any abstract concept like ‘love’ and ‘peace’ don’t need an article.
We say: Japan is a high-tech country.
We don’t say: The Japan is a high-tech country.
Note: We only use an article with the following cases:
I saw a Japanese woman (not particular).
The Japanese movie we watched last night was very nice (particular and both the speaker and listener know the exact title of the movie. The speaker just did not mention it).
We say: Love makes the world go round.
We don’t say: The love makes the world go round.
While there are exceptions, it is advisable that IELTS Test candidates develop their knowledge of articles using these basic rules first.
Now test your understanding to help improve your IELTS Band Score
Now that you have clearly understood the difference between the two kinds of article (of course, you know that I’m talking about the definite article ‘the’ and the indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘an’), test yourself using the questions below:
Supply the missing article (a, an or the) for each sentence. Leave the sentence as is if it doesn’t need any article.
- I have _ dream.
- John, do you remember _ song we listened to last night?
- _ Canada is a beautiful country.
- Let’s prepare _ surprise party for her.
- _ answer to poverty is _ education.
- Jupiter is _ biggest planet.
- In IELTS speaking, you need to give _ answer that is coherent and cohesive.
- Laughter is _ best medicine.
- China is not _ Asian country.
- Next year, I will go to _ Australia.
- I have a dream.
- John, do you remember the song we listened to last night?
- _(as is/no article needed) Canada is a beautiful country.
- Let’s prepare a surprise party for her.
- The answer to poverty is _ (as is/no article needed) education.
- Jupiter is the biggest planet.
- In every IELTS Speaking question, you need to give an answer that is coherent and cohesive.
- Laughter is the best medicine.
- China is not an Asian country.
- Next year, I will go to _(as is/no article needed) Australia.
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