There are two types of articles: what linguists call “indefinite articles” (“a”, “an”, “some”, and sometimes “any”) and “definite articles” (only “the” in English).
It is clearer if you think of “definite” articles as specific and the “indefinite” articles as more general and not specific. For example, compare these sentences:
- The boy I met yesterday is Tom’s brother.
- A boy I met yesterday said he was Tom’s brother.
In Sentence 1, there is only one boy in question, i.e. the one I met yesterday.
In Sentence 2, I could have met many boys but, out of all of them, one of them, (without saying which one) was Tom’s brother.
Consider again the following pair of sentences:
- Some boys came to the school yesterday to play cricket against our team. The boy with red hair was the team captain.
In the first sentence of the pair, “boys” is not specific, e.g. there could have been half a dozen or 12 or 20 boys from who knows where. In the second sentence, specifically the boy with red hair, just that one, was the team captain.
So, think of “the” as specific and “a”, “an” or “some” as not specific and referring to any person or any thing.
Similarly, you can also see how “any” can be used in the following sentences:
- “Please put some cups on the table for dinner.”
“Which ones would you like me to use?”
“It doesn’t matter - any cups will do.”
Clearly, in the third sentence here, “cups” is not specific, it is “indefinite”.
[Footnote: in linguistics, all these articles and certain other words are also known as “determiners”.]
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