The three articles — a, an, the — are a kind of adjective. The is called the definite article because it usually precedes a specific or previously mentioned noun. A and an are called indefinite articles because they are used to refer to something in a less specific manner (an unspecified count noun). These words are also listed among the noun markers or determiners because they are almost invariably followed by a noun (or something else acting as a noun).
Even after you learn all the principles behind the use of these articles, you will find an abundance of situations where choosing the correct article or choosing whether to use one or not will prove chancy.
And both are correct.
The is used with specific nouns. The is required when the noun it refers to represents something that is one of a kind:
The is required when the noun it refers to represents something in the abstract:
The is required when the noun it refers to represents something named earlier in the text.
We use a before singular count-nouns that begin with consonants (a cow, a barn, a sheep).
We use an before singular count-nouns that begin with vowels or vowel-like sounds (an apple, an urban blight, an open door).
Words that begin with an h sound often require an a (as in a horse, a history book, a hotel), but if an h-word begins with an actual vowel sound, use an an (as in an hour, an honor).
We would say a useful device and a union matter because the u of those words actually sounds like yoo (as opposed, say, to the u of an ugly incident).
The same is true of a European and a Euro (because of that consonantal "Yoo" sound).
We would say a once-in-a-lifetime experience or a one-time hero because the words once and one begin with a w sound (as if they were spelled wuntz and won).
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary says that we can use an before an h- word that begins with an unstressed syllable. Thus, we might say an hisTORical moment, but we would say a HIStory book. Many writers would call that an affectation and prefer that we say a historical, but apparently, this choice is a matter of personal taste.
First and subsequent reference: When we first refer to something in written text, we often use an indefinite article to modify it.
In a subsequent reference to this newspaper, however, we will use the definite article:
When a modifier appears between the article and the noun, the subsequent article will continue to be indefinite:
Generic reference: We can refer to something in a generic way by using any of the three articles. We can do the same thing by omitting the article altogether.
The difference between the generic indefinite pronoun and the normal indefinite pronoun is that the latter refers to any of that class ("I want to buy a beagle, and any old beagle will do.") whereas the former (see beagle sentence) refers to all members of that class.
Proper nouns: We use the definite article with certain kinds of proper nouns:
Abstract nouns: Abstract nouns - the names of things that are not tangible - are sometimes used with articles, sometimes not:
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