The Apple or An Apple?
It’s Q&A time on #allYouGottaDoIsAsk and today we have a question from a friend:
When do I use ‘The’ and when do I use ‘A’? Sometimes I just drop its usage so that I don’t have to overthink!
Well, there is no need for all the drama of avoiding the use of articles (The, A, An) in the English Language. If we can easily identify when to use ‘The’ instead of ‘A’, we’ll have both problems solved.
The incorrect usage of ‘The’ and ‘A’ is common as we do not have Articles as part of our Bahasa Melayu. The most similar (but not exact) usage of ‘The’ and ‘A’ can be differentiated using the Malay word ‘Itu’.
Example 1. A car is a necessity / Kereta merupakan keperluan.
Example 2. The car is a necessity. Kereta itu merupakan keperluan.
Example 1 means that any car in general is a necessity. Meanwhile Example 2 means that there is a specific car that is also known to the listener, that is a necessity.
As a non-native English speaker, it is more comfortable to emulate our mother tongue when speaking in English. We either omit any use of the Articles (The, A, An) or we use the Articles interchangeably. It is really important to get the Articles right especially when we are presenting our idea/solution to a global audience. They need to know that we don’t just have a solution, we have THE solution.
Being able to understand the difference between ‘The’ and ‘A’, and using it to your advantage can give so much clarity to the idea/knowledge that you want to bring forth.
The key to knowing when to use ‘The’ is when you are sure that your listener/reader knows the specific object you are referring to. So this means that other than that should be used with ‘A’. You only need to be sure of when to use ‘The’, because ‘A’ will be taken care for once you get your ‘The’ right!
Let’s not waste any more time and get right into some examples.
Example 3. An apple is red.
Example 4. The apple is red.
Example 3 means to say that all apples, in general, are red. A situation where ‘An apple is red’ might be used is in a classroom where the teacher is showing the colour differences between a pear, an apple and a lemon.
Example 4 means to say that a known specific apple is red. A situation where ‘The apple is red’ might be used is in a classroom where the teacher is holding up an apple and asks the class, “What is the colour of this apple?”
That’s a basic example to show the difference between ‘The’ and ‘A’ and in the real adult world, our usage of ‘The’ and ‘A’ is not just limited to apples and cars. Yes, people, I hear you. Let’s continue with more examples!
Example 5 A graph can easily tell the story of a department’s sales trend. The graph shows that sales is inclined to worsen in the next coming months. According to our graphs from previous years, our sales will slowly stablise by September. Thus it is important to establish a sound plan to mitigate the hard months.
Example 6 The graph shown on the screen is a forecast made based on last year’s sales trend. The graph is considered obsolete as purchasing trend is not a relevant factor to determine a company’s profit. The key determining factors to forecast a company’s profit are its operations margin and market reach. A new graph shall be plotted to perform a forecast on the company’s profit.
Alrighty, that sounds more like a real-life conversation we have at the office.
So Example 5 means to say that any graph of collected data over time shows a trend. If we have a graph that shows that sales dip in July and stabilise in September, we should brace with a plan to withstand the months with less sales. Do note the usage of ‘the graph’ is always referring to a specific graph while the usage of ‘a graph’ refers to any graph in general.
Meanwhile Example 6 talks about a specific graph that is shown to all. The graph is said to be obsolete as it does not measure the correct considerations to perform a forecast on a company’s profit. Note that the usage of ‘the graph’ refers to a specific graph that is known and the usage of ‘a graph’ refers to a new graph that haven’t yet exist.
Quite simple, isn’t it?
If you need to refer to something specific and known, use ‘The’.
If the condition above IS NOT MET, use ‘A’ or ‘An’.
I hope the explanation above gives you confidence in determining when to use ‘The’ and ‘A’. Now, I would like to hear from you. Have you been in a situation when you are not sure whether to use ‘The’ or ‘A’? Let me know how you navigated that situation by commenting below or by replying to my email, if you are a subscriber to The Baini Mustafa Newsletter. If you haven’t yet subscribed and would like to receive a weekly dose of English Language Improvement to your Inbox, you may subscribe here!
Until next time for our Q&A #allYouGottaDoIsAsk, have a productive week ahead.