Grammar | A, An, The, Zero Article

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Learn about some advanced used of A, An, The and Zero Article in this new grammar episode from English Plus Podcast.

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I am using an automatic transcript service as it is not possible for me to do it on my own and I cannot afford human transcription at the moment. The service claims to have about 95% accuracy, which means there will still be some mistakes, so my apologies for having a less than perfect transcript, but I hope I can afford human transcription soon and I will solve this problem. However, the service is pretty good, and the transcript is almost perfect.


Welcome to a new episode from English plus podcast. Today’s episode is about grammar and we will talk about a very confusing thing in grammar, and that is when to use a and the, and the zero article. And I will have to tell you that this is not exactly the beginner. Version of a N Z N zero article. It’s a little bit of advanced.

[00:00:28] We talk about some nuances. So this is not exactly for beginners. We have some advanced concepts here, but it is very useful for all levels because it will definitely tell you when to use a N or nothing. But before we start with today’s episode, let me tell you about our premium offering for our patrons on Patreon.

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[00:01:30] Now, without further ado, let’s start with our episode for today. And that is a N the end, the zero article or nothing. No, let’s start with the first idea about using that. We use that when we talk about things that are unique, that is, there is only one of them. For example, like when we say the world, the sky, the atmosphere, the sun, the ground, the climate, the horizon, the human race, the environment, the travel industry, the internet.

[00:02:02] All of these things are unique. There is only one of these things. So we use the, when we want to talk about things that are unique, we use that when we talk about general geographical areas, like when we talk about the beach, the town, the seaside, the land, the countryside, we talk about the past, the future, the present we use that.

[00:02:24] Now, you might know this, you might not. If you don’t find that is a new thing, you learn about when to use that. But what I’m going to focus on here is the new ones here that when we have these words, when we have these unique words, but we don’t use them now know that some nouns like this can be used with zero article.

[00:02:42] That means no article to refer to a concept in general, but here note what I’m saying. No article can be used. You can use zero article, but you can still use that if you want. So for example, climate, well, of course you can say the climate is one of the many factors involved in changing farming methods and that’s correct.

[00:03:02] That’s fine. But because you’re talking about the climate, generally in general, as a concept, you can use it with zero article. You can say climate is one of the many factors involved in changing farming methods and that’s okay. You can say, for example, in autumn or in fall, the temperature difference between land and sea decreases.

[00:03:24] And here we can still say the land and this sea, but because we’re talking about this concept in general, we’re referring to this word as a general concept. We can use them without articles with zero articles. Now sometimes you can use a or N instead, if you want to describe a particular instance of these unique words.

[00:03:46] Now notice the difference. When I say I could see the plane high up in the sky, that is the unique sky, because there’s only one sky. Right. But you can say, when I woke up, there was a bright blue sky. You can say that when you want to describe a particular instance of the sky, when I woke up, there was a bright blue sky that’s also possible.

[00:04:10] Or let me give you another example to help you understand this. You can say, what are your plans for the future? Now the future, we said, we use them because there’s only one future, maybe different feature for every single one of us. Yes. But the idea of the future is unique, but you can say. She dreamed of a future where she could spend more time painting.

[00:04:30] She dreamed of a future here. We use a, because we’re just talking about a particular instance of this general concept or unique concept, which is the future. So this was our first point. Let’s move on and talk about another point. Now we can use that when we make generalizations about classes of things using singular countable nouns.

[00:04:52] Now I will give you some examples using the N a or N, and we will compare the meanings so that you understand this concept. Now, if we say the computer has revolutionized publishing, now this refers to computers in general, but we cannot say a computer has revolutionized publishing. That doesn’t work because computers in general have done this, not an individual computer, but if you say, for example, the computer is an important research tool or a computer is an important research tool.

[00:05:24] Well, this statement is true of both the general class of computers or the individual item of a computer. So we can use a here. Now as an alternative to though with a singular countable. Now we can use a plural countable now to talk about a class of things. When we say computers, which can say computers are an important research tool.

[00:05:46] And not that if that is used with plural and uncountable nows, we refer to a specific thing or group. Now, when we say, for example, the computers, the computers have arrived, where shall I put them? We’re talking about specific things or specific group of things, or when you say the music was wonderful, that’s uncountable.

[00:06:06] Obviously the music was wonderful. I could have listened to the orchestra all night. Now, when we define something or say, what is typical of a particular class of people or things we generally use a or N rather than the, for example, when we say a corkscrew is a gadget for getting corks out of bottles or a garden is there to give you pleasure not to be a constant worry.

[00:06:31] Let’s continue and talk about some other ideas for a N or zero article. Some nouns can be used uncountable early when we talk about the whole substance or idea, but Kountable early, when we talk about an instance or more than one instance of it, when these nouns are used accountably, we can use a or N and plurals.

[00:06:52] Obviously. Now let’s take a look at common uncountable. Now it’s like coffee and fear. You know, coffee and fear. These are uncountable. Now, when I say, for example, I don’t drink coffee. This is absolutely fine. We use it here with no articles because this is uncountable. We don’t put a or N right. We don’t say coffees obviously.

[00:07:12] Or we say he shook with fear. That is here also again, fear in general, because we’re talking about uncountable, but can’t, we use a with those things. Of course we can, but the meaning is a little bit different because we’re talking about an instance or more than one instance of distinct. For example, we say, would you like a coffee now here?

[00:07:32] We mean a cup of coffee. Or when we say he has a fear of Heights, we’re talking about an instance of fear. So we can use a or N with uncountable nouns in this case. But remember, we’re talking about just one instance of this thing, like a cake or a cheese or a milk here. Of course, cake cheese, milk. These are uncountable nouns.

[00:07:54] But when we use a with those, we’re just talking about one instance, maybe a cup or a slice or whatever. Now let’s talk about another idea that has to do with jobs. Now we use eight or end to say what a person’s job is, was, or will be. For example, she was a company director when she retired or against her parents’ wishes, she wants to be a journalist.

[00:08:19] We use a  to talk about a person’s job. What it is, what it was or what it will be. However, when we give a person’s job title or their unique position, we use that or zero article, which means no article, obviously not a or N. Let’s take a look at these examples. She’s been appointed the head of the company, not a head of the company.

[00:08:43] We can say head of the company, without that, if you want, we can use the, or zero article. We can say she’s been appointed head of the company without that. And that’s fine. Or we can say she’s been appointed as the head of the company, but we can’t say a or N we cannot say she’s been appointed ahead of the company.

[00:09:01] There are many heads for the company. It doesn’t work now. When we say, for example, I’m a production manager at this company. That means there may be more than one production manager, but if you say I’m the production manager of the company, that means there’s only one. I’m just talking about this unique position.

[00:09:19] So if your position is unique, you have to use the, or sometimes nothing. Now after the position of after these expressions, when you say the position of, or the post of, or the role of, we use zero article before a job title, for example, we say Dr. Simmons has taken on the position of head of department, not the position of the head of the department.

[00:09:43] No, we don’t do that. We say Dr. Simmons has taken on the position of no article, head of department zero article here. All right now, let’s talk about names. Now we usually use zero article before the name of an individual person or place. And that is fine. When we talk about names like Danny or your name or Tony or Ben, whatever, we don’t use that Danny or a Danny or something.

[00:10:07] We don’t use that. But sometimes we use the, when there are two people with the same name to specify which one we mean. For example, we say, that’s not the Steven Frazier. I went to school with that’s another Steven Frazier. So there are two Steven Fraiser’s and I’m telling you, that’s not this Steven Frazier that I went to school with.

[00:10:28] So here we can use the, to define, to specify which one we’re talking about. When there are two people with the same name. But however you can say there was us Steven Frazier in my class, and you can say S Steven Frazier in my class, that means a person named Steven Frazier. And that’s fine. You can use a here, because if you just say Steven Frazier was in my class, you assume the other person, or at least, you know, that the other person knows who Stephen Frazier was, or he is.

[00:10:57] So here there was S Steven Frazier or a Johnny or a Dom or whatever. That means there was a person named Steven Frazier. Now, when we want to emphasize that the person we are referring to is the most famous person with that name, because, you know, sometimes there are common names and there are many people who have this name, but there is this one person that is the most famous person with that name.

[00:11:22] We use the. But when we do that, we usually stress the, and we pronounce it as the, even if the word that comes after, doesn’t start with a vowel sound. So for example, let’s talk about Neil Armstrong. Now, maybe there are a lot of Neil Armstrong’s, but the most famous Neil Armstrong out there is the man who took the first step on the moon.

[00:11:42] Right. So here, when we talk about Neil Armstrong, maybe you’re talking about Neil Armstrong. So do you mean the Neil Armstrong or someone else? Are you talking about this man, the most famous man with this name? Do you mean the Neil Armstrong or someone else? So here you can also use debit. Remember we usually stress it and we pronounce it as the, how we can use that as well with an adjective to describe a person or another noun, which tells us.

[00:12:11] Their job. Like when we say the late Michael Jackson or the artist Joseph Turner, or the actor, Brad Pitt or something like that, or when we talk about a family as a whole, like when we say the Robinsons are away this weekend, the Joneses are not here. So here we’re talking about the family as a whole, we can use that.

[00:12:30] But of course the basic thing is that we use zero article before the name of an individual person or a place, but there are exceptions, like the ones I mentioned. Now, another point note that a or an or sometimes zero article is used with a name when referring to the particular excellent qualities of the person named.

[00:12:51] Let me give you an example so that you understand what I’m talking about. Now. For example, there is a young tennis player, very promising tennis player. Let’s say that this person is called Tom. For example, Tom plays tennis. Well, but he’ll never be a Roger Federer. Roger Federer, if you don’t know, Roger Federer, one of the most famous players in tennis history, but that is when we can use a or an all or nothing or zero article.

[00:13:17] We can say Tom plays tennis. Well, but he’ll never be Roger Federer, or he’ll never be a Roger Federer because here we use that with a name when referring to the particular excellent qualities of the person named, like, when we say he’ll never be a Michael Jordan, he’ll never be a Mike Tyson, et cetera.

[00:13:36] Now we also use eight or N when we refer to an individual example of a product made by a particular manufacturer. For example, I’ve just bought a Mercedes or a work by a particular artist, for example. Do you think it could be a Vanguard or a Rembrandt? So here, uh, that means like saying a work by or a car by, in our earlier example about I’ve just bought a Mercedes or you can use a or N before a person’s name.

[00:14:07] If you don’t know the person yourself. Now here, I’ll give you two examples and you can tell the difference. Now, for example, if the phone is ringing, I picked up the phone and then I come to you and tell you, Dr. Lee is here for you. What does that insinuate, what does that tell you as a listener? Not as you, of course, when I say Dr.

[00:14:25] Lee is here for you, that means I know Dr. Lee, because I said, Dr. Lee is here for you. But what if someone calls and I picked up the phone, this person told me, I’m Dr. Amy Lee. I want to talk to your friend and I’ve never heard of this person in my life, so I can come to you and say, there is a Dr. Amy Lee on the phone.

[00:14:44] Do you want to talk to her? There is a Dr. Amy Lee, of course, it’s not natural to use a before names. That’s right. But here it has a very specific meaning. There is a Dr. Emiley, there is a Tony Morrison. There is a Ben Braxton on the phone. Uh, Ben Brexton. I’ve never heard of this, man. I don’t know who that man is.

[00:15:03] This is the first time I’ve heard this name. There is a person with that name that is the implied meaning. There is a person. On the phone with the name of this, but you don’t have to say all this, you can simply say there is a Dr. Amy Lee on the phone and here we can use AORN with names if you want to.

[00:15:22] All right. So now let’s talk about another idea. With plural and uncountable nouns, zero article is used to talk generally without definite people or things in mind that is used. When we assume the listener or reader will understand who or what we are referring to, or when other words in the noun phrase make the reference specific.

[00:15:43] Now let’s take a look at some examples to understand this better. For example, if I say the government has promised not to tax books, Books, zero article. What does that mean? Books in general, but if I say the books have arrived, what does that mean? The books have arrived. That means maybe the books you ordered or the books you were waiting for, or the books you asked for, or et cetera.

[00:16:05] But we’re talking about specific books, not in general. And when I say, for example, music played an important part in his life. I might talking about a specific kind of music specific type of music, something that was played in a specific concert. No, I’m talking about music generally, but if I say, I thought the music used in the film was the best part I’m talking about.

[00:16:28] That particular music used in the film. So here. Yes, in general, we use zero article with plural and uncountable nouns to talk about things in general. But when we assume the listener or reader will understand who or what we are referring to, or when we talk about specific things and give specific references to them, we can use them.

[00:16:49] Now, another point we often use zero article with the names of holidays. Special times of the year, months, and days of the week, including Easter Ramadan, new year’s day, et cetera. But take a look at this. If I say, I’ll see you on Saturday, that means next Saturday we met on Saturday. That means last Saturday.

[00:17:07] Fine. That is understood, but we can also use a Enza with Saturday. For example, they came on a Saturday as far as I can remember on Saturday. So here, what I’m trying to say, we are only interested in the day of the week, not which particular Saturday. So maybe we’re wondering, was it a Saturday? Was it a Monday?

[00:17:26] Was it a Tuesday? Was it a Thursday? So here, what we’re wondering about, what we care about is just the day of the week. Not when it happened, maybe it happened a year ago or two months ago, or I don’t know. That’s not important. What’s important. We’re just talking about the day of the week, which day of the week did they come?

[00:17:43] So they came on a Saturday. As far as I can remember on Saturday, or for example, we can use that by saying they came on the Saturday after our party. That’s a particular Saturday. We have a specific one, so we can use a, or the. Now with winter summer, spring, autumn, and new year, meaning the holiday period.

[00:18:02] Obviously we can use either zero article or we can say, for example, in summer or in this summer, both are fine. I try to spend as much time as I can in the garden. Now we use that when it is understood or we go on to specify which summer spring, et cetera, we mean, for example, I’d like to go skiing in the autumn in the autumn.

[00:18:23] That means this year, if you use that. Not in autumn in autumn. That means in general. Usually, maybe not this year, maybe not last year, but in general, that’s what I like to do, but hear what I’m saying. I’d like to go skiing in the autumn or in the fall. And that means this year, or if you say I first went skiing in the spring of 2002.

[00:18:42] Now that is also specific in this spring of this year, in the summer of that year, et cetera. Now we say, for example, in the venue here, we can use the here as well to mean near the beginning of next year. For example, I’ll see you again in the new year. That means near the beginning of next year. Now, when we want to describe the features of a particular holiday season or other period of time and say that it was somehow special when compared with others, we can use it.

[00:19:10] Or that was with a or an with noun and the modifying phrase, for example, That was a winter. I’ll never forget. That is compared to other winters. It was unforgettable. That was a winter, or that was the winter. We went to Norway. And here again, we’re talking about a specific or a particular winter. So here you have to be a little bit flexible.

[00:19:33] Of course, there’s no way in the world. I will give you every single option out there to use eight N and depth. There are a lot, but I’m just giving you some ideas and you can use those ideas. Of course you can use the exact things I talked about. Or you can use the ideas I talked about, and then you can think about those and use them on other words that are like the concepts we’re talking about here.

[00:19:55] So try to figure out, try to understand the concepts we’re talking. Not only just the examples, because you will definitely have a lot more examples than I can ever talk about in one episode or even in one podcast. All right. Now let’s talk about a N Z or zero article with times of day. And we use zero article with times of the day and night, such as midnight mid-day and noon.

[00:20:18] For example, if possible, I’d like it finished by midday or midnight couldn’t come quickly enough, but not that we can say either the Dawn or Dawn, we say, for example, he got back into bed and waited for the Dawn or waited for Dawn. Both are fine. Now we use the morning, the afternoon, the evening for a day, which is understood or already specified.

[00:20:39] For example, you can say I enjoyed the morning, but in the afternoon, the course was boring. So here we’re talking about something specific again, but compare. We can use that with zero articles we can say morning is the time I work best. That means mornings in general, by the way, here, you can still say the morning is the time I work best.

[00:20:59] That’s fine. But morning is even better with no articles, zero article, or you can say. I’ll be there by morning, by evening or by the morning or by the evening, both are fine, but pay attention here when you want to use afternoon, we say by the afternoon, not by afternoon, we don’t say by afternoon, just on its own without the now another example we can say, I waited all morning now that is more usual than saying all the morning.

[00:21:25] All the morning is grammatically. Okay. But usually people say I waited all morning. All afternoon, et cetera, or take a look. When we use a with morning, for example, someone comes to you and tells you, you look upset and you say, yes, I’ve had a terrible morning compared to other mornings. You’re were just talking about one terrible morning.

[00:21:43] So you can say, Hey, I had a terrible afternoon. I had a terrible evening, et cetera. So, as I told you, of course we can go on and on and talk about a N and the, and talk about a lot of examples and a lot of exceptions, et cetera. And it will not be enough in one episode, or even if we talk about it in 10 episodes, but I hope that I’ve given you some perspective, some ideas, some concepts that you can use, or you can think about when you want to use a and the, or zero article in many situations.

[00:22:13] I hope you can use that to make this problem of  or zero article, a little bit less confusing. That being said, that’ll be all for this episode. Thank you very much for listening now, before I leave you, let me remind you again, that I have started to add exclusive mini series for our patrons on Patreon. So if you would like to have access to those mini series, and by the way, the first mini series is business English marketing, eight episode mini-series.

[00:22:38] There are a lot of things you can learn about business English, marketing, and there is a practice booklet as well that you can use to improve and to practice. Obviously, the things that you’re going to learn in the mini-series, if you would like to get this mini series and the many mini series that are coming out every week.

[00:22:54] Go ahead to our Patreon page, become a patron and enjoy our premium, the soda and miniseries. Of course, you can find the link to our website and to patriarchy in the description of the episode. Now, that being said again, I would like to thank you very much for listening to another episode from English plus podcast.

[00:23:10] This is your host, Danny. I will see you next time.

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