BBC Learning English Articles 070313 Lyrics
Don't worry, you're not alone - almost all students of English find our articles difficult. The
basic rule is that we use 'a' or 'an' for countable nouns, when we're introducing them for the
For example, we might say:
"I watched a film yesterday."
This is the first time the film has been mentioned, and the listener doesn't know which film
we're talking about, so we use 'a'.
'The' is used when we're discussing something and we expect that the listener already knows
which thing we're talking about.
"I watched a film yesterday, but it wasn't as good as the film we watched last week."
We say 'the' film we watched last week because this film isn't something new. We already
know about this film because we watched it last week.
We can also use 'the' in sentences like this:
"The planet Earth is round."
Do we know which planet Earth? Yes, of course we do, because there is only one planet Earth.
We use 'the' when we're talking about something that's unique.
So, let's look at your first example...
"If you live in a foreign country, you should try and learn the language."
Do we know which language? Yes we do - it's the language which is spoken in that country.
For example, we might say:
"If you live in Poland, you should try and learn the language."
In this case, that language would be Polish because that's the language spoken in Poland (and
yes, there are countries where more than one language is spoken, but let's not worry about
that for now).
Unfortunately there are many exceptions to this rule. We don't have enough time to talk about
all the exceptions here, but let's look at your second example:
"We missed our train because we were waiting on the wrong platform."
Do we know which wrong platform? Actually no, we don't, there may be many wrong
platforms in this example. In fact, when we use the adjectives right and wrong, we almost
always use the article 'the'. There are some exceptions to this - for example, we say:
"I took a wrong turn."
As I said before, the article rules are extremely complex. After you fully understand the basic
rule and the main exceptions, it's really not worthwhile trying to work out what rules govern
each exception; it's just not helpful to try to think about it this way.
I'm sorry to say, generally, the only really effective way to learn how to use articles in
English well is practice. When you've listened to enough spoken English, and read enough
English written down, you will gradually start to develop a feeling and intuition for which is
the correct article to use in a particular situation.
By the way, 'the' New Year is exactly right - well done!