Review of English determiners: “A” and “An”

Today we’ll review the use of “a” and “an” with a learning activity. These activities are a follow-up to a previous post about determiners in English. The exercise is directly related to the numbered rules from the Magoosh TOEFL Blog grammar lesson “Using ‘A’ and ‘An’.” So open the link to that post right now. You’ll need to check my earlier post for the rules I’ll reference in the activity below.

Activity: The rules for using “a” and “an” in English

Instructions: Each sentence below contains either “a,” “an,” or no determiner at all. After each sentence, say which determiner is used, and then say why the determiner is used. Consult my original post on a/an to give your reasons. The first three have been done for you.

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english determiners

  1. She ate spaghetti for dinner.
    Determiner used: none
    Reason: “Spaghetti” is an uncountable noun, and uncountable nouns do not have “a” or “an.”
    Editor’s note: This comes from Rule 1 in the original post, “Using ‘A’ and ‘An’ in English.”
  2. Their employees filed an harassment complaint.
    Determiner used: an
    Reason: Although “harassment” starts with a consonant, it starts with an unstressed syllable beginning with “h.” Because of this, it is possible to use “a” or “an” before the word. This writer has chosen to use “an.”
    Editor’s note: This answer comes from Rule 2, Exception 3 of the original post
  3. I rode my bike for a kilometer.
    Determiner used: a
    Reason: “A” can be a substitute for the word “one” when talking about a single item that is countable.
    Editor’s note: This answer comes from Rule 2 of the original post that I have linked a few times above.
  4. Some people feel English is a universal global language.
    Determiner used:
  5. That mysterious fighter jet has a U.S. flag image on it.
    Determiner used:
    Reason:english determiners
  6. My baby elephant weighs about a thousand kilograms.
    Determiner used:
  7. Spiders have eight legs and six eyes and look very creepy.
    Determiner used:
  8. It’s hard to think on an empty stomach.
    Determiner used:
  9. He drew an x and an o.
    Determiner used:
  10. I hope to read a new novel every month.
    Determiner used:

Notes on the answers

For each question above, it’s possible that more than one rule from my original post may be relevant. You can choose to give just one reason for the use of a determiner, or you could give two or three reasons for each answer. That’s up to you. What’s important is that you really think about the different rules and make an effort to understand how the grammar of “a” and “an” looks when it’s used in English sentences.

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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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