Advice for learning English from Aviation English Asia.

Article written by Michael Egerton

One of the most complicated areas of English is the correct use of articles.  In English there are two articles – a/an and the. In this article you can learn some simple rules that will help you use articles correctly. But first of all, look at the sentences below. Can you explain how and why the articles are used?

  • 1. I had a baguette and a cup of coffee for lunch.
  • 2. The baguette was good but the coffee was awful.
  • 1. My brother is a pilot.
  • 2. He is the captain of a Boeing 737.
  • 1. I saw a security officer holding a machine gun.
  • 2. Airport security officers are allowed to carry guns.
  • 1. I feel cold. Can you pass me a blanket.
  • 2. I feel cold. Can you pass me the blanket

The Airbus A380 is the biggest passenger aircraft

The definite article – the

Here are four rules to explain the use the definite article the. After reading match each rule with one of the examples below.

Rule 1: the – used where there is only one.  For example, “I saw the nice lady from HR.” Here, we’re talking about a specific noun.  There is probably only one nice lady from the HR department.

Rule 2: the – used before geographical nouns eg seas, rivers, hotels, pubs, museums and newspapers.

  • names of rivers, oceans and seas: the Nile, the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Black Sea
  • points on the globe: the Equator, the North Pole
  • geographical areas: the Middle East, the Northern Hemisphere
  • deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas: the Sahara, the Persian Gulf, the Forest of Dean,

Rule 3: the – used with superlative adjectives.  For example, the Cadet Pilot Programme is the easiest way for local people to start an aviation career.

Rule 4: the – used when both the speaker and listener already know the thing, design or idea being talked about.  For example,  “The car was blue.”   Here, we’re talking about a specific car, the car that hit my Cessna. The definitive article is also used to talk about aircraft when describing or comparing their features, eg the Airbus A380, the Boeing 747.

Examples – which of the above rules do they demonstrate?

  • We have a cat and a dog. The cat is white and the dog is black.
  • The Atlantic Ocean, the Sun, the River Nile, the Black Swan
  • The WOMBAT test was really easy
  • Have you checked the fuel?
  • The Airbus A380 is the largest passenger airliner. Concorde was the fastest passenger aircraft.
  • The Air Traffic Controller’s daughter is really pretty.
  • I passed the ICAO English test

The indefinite article – a/an

Here are four rules explaining the use of the indefinite article a/an

Rule 1: a/an – used with professions.  For example, “I’m a lawyer“.

Rule 2: a/an – used with some expressions of quantity. For example, “I need a bottle of water”.

Rule 3: a/an used in expressions with “what + countable noun”.  For example, “What a beautiful day for flying!”

Rule 4: a/an used to refer to a thing or idea for the first time. For example, “I met a nice girl last night.”

Examples – which of the above rules do they demonstrate?

  • I’m an accountant. My brother is a pilot.
  • What an incredible landing!
  • The passengers will board in a few minutes.
  • A couple of landing cards please.
  • I practice English 3 times a week.
  • I’m reading a good book. The author is Peter Nock.

No article required

There are four rules explaining the use of no article.

Rule 1: no article used before some forms of transport.

Rule 2: no article used with exclamations with “what + uncountable noun”

Rule 3: no article used before some geographical nouns, languages, meals, airports, mountains and stations. For example,

  • names of most countries/territories: Australia, China, Canada; however you do need to use the before countries that are a collection of states eg, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the United States
  • names of cities, towns, or states:London, Singapore, Vancouver
  • names of streets: Scenic View Road, Oxford St.
  • names of lakes and bays: Lake Michigan, except with a group of lakes like the Great Lakes
  • names of mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Fuji except with ranges of mountains like the Andes or the Himalayas
  • names of continents (Asia, Europe)
  • names of islands (Hong Kong Island, Lantau, Lamma) except groups of islands like the Philippines, or the Canary Islands

Rule 4: no article used before plural and uncountable nouns to refer to things in general.

Examples – which of the above rules do they demonstrate?

  • What amazing weather!
  • I had dinner with the captain.
  • I bought “Pronunciation for Pilots” online.
  • Mt Fuji is in Japan.
  • I go to work by train.
  • What noisy passengers!
  • She can speak Portuguese.
  • I like girls.
  • Police officers in Hong Kong carry guns.
  • Peanuts can be dangerous during flight.

Activity – Newspaper headlines

Newspaper headlines rarely use complete sentences. Look at the list of headlines below and see if you can write them as a complete sentence using verbs in the correct tense and articles as appropriate.  You can find the answers on our Facebook Discussion forum.


  • Headline – FAA to announce new taxi instructions
  • Full sentence – The FAA is going to announce some new taxi instructions.

Global Airline Traffic Surpasses Pre Recession Level

Heroic Flight Attendant Lands Plane

FAA Slow to Require Action On Cockpit Fires

Passengers Stranded On Desert Island

Pilot Loses Certificate For Buzzing Beach

Fuel Dump By FedEx Plane Most Likely Cause of Mysterious Crop Damage

Early 787 Simulation Raises Concerns

Magnificent Man and His Homebuilt Flying Machine Go For Record at Age of 94

6 Year Old OHIO Girl Placed on FAA Watch List

Tiny Turtle Returns Plane to Gate

What to do next

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Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article.  We value all of your feedback.

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