TOEFL Grammar Basics: Articles


There are no hard and fast rules about how to use articles accurately. During the editing process of a student’s essays, correcting these finer grammatical points is often times required. For many, it can be confusing and frustrating to try to discern when and when not to use these articles. To help you write better and improve your grammar, we summarized some basic rules about articles for your easy reference.

#1. No article is necessary before an uncountable noun which is used in an indefinite sense, i.e., in a non-unique, non-specific and non-defined way.

Example: Some people prefer water to coffee every morning.

“The” is necessary before an uncountable noun which is used in a definite sense.

Example: The water in this town is famous for its purity.

Never use “a” or “an” before an uncountable noun.

Example (incorrect): a happiness

#2. No article is necessary before a plural noun which is used in an indefinite sense.

Example A: Do you have siblings?

Example B: There are stars in the sky.

#3. No article is necessary before the names of streets, avenues, roads, lanes, or boulevard.

Example: I live on Eighth Ave. We are at Main Street.

#4. No “the” is necessary after some, most, all, many, much, and there is/are. But “the” is necessary if preceded by some of, most of, all of, many of, much of. Prepositional phrases with “of” makes a noun definite. Therefore “the” is used.

Example: Many people showed up yesterday. Many of the people I know showed up yesterday.

Final notes:

#1. Depending on the phrase and the meaning, the same noun can be countable in some situations and uncountable in others.

Example A: Our helicopter is running out of fuel. Gas is a fuel made from petroleum.

Example B: My sister loves cheese. Brie is a soft and rich French cheese.

Example C: Time is precious. We had a wonderful time at the holiday party.

#2. Indefinite use of noun includes the following situations: a) The noun was used as a generic reference; b) The noun was not mentioned before in the context; c) The noun was not known to the speaker as a particular item; d) The noun was not part of a phrase; and e) The noun was not defined by a phrase or clause.


Are these sentences correct?

I live on the Ninth Street.

I live on the Broadway.

I live on the Cherry Lane.

I live on the main street.

I live on the Main Street.

I saw a Broadway play last week.

A Broadway play that we saw was really amazing.

Please fill in the blanks when applicable.

1. Cross ________ Thirteenth Avenue and turn right on ________ Cherry.

2. Mr. Jones lived on ________ Sierra Nevada Lane which is ________ main street in that town.

3. I can’t recall the exact name of ________ street that she used to live on.

4. There’s ________ road in front of my house.

5. Do ________ Broadway and ________ 116th Street run into each other?

6. ________ off-Broadway show that your mom mentioned was excellent.

7. ________ Fifth Avenue plastic surgeon can charge over 3,000 dollars for the consultation fee.

8. We stopped in Philadelphia to see ________ South Street jazz band.

9. Mr. Jerry is the proprietor of ________ Broadway restaurant where I used to have a job.

Educational Institutions

What is the rule?

Those students attend Columbia University in Manhattan.

Those students attend the University of Columbia in Bogota.

Please fill in the blanks when applicable.

1. ________ Williams College is in the State of Massachusetts.

2. ________ U of EA is in England.

3. ________ Bowdoin College is located in Maine.

4. Professor Williamson works in ________ College of Arts and Sciences.

5. ________ Nanjing University is in Nanjing, China.

6. I work at biology station for ________ University of Chicago.

7. ________ Pennsylvania State University and ________ University of Pennsylvania are two different schools.

8. ________ Yale School of Management of ________ Yale University has a focus on educating leaders in both public and private sectors.

Countries, Cities, States

When do you use “the”?

When do you not use “the”?

Please fill in the blanks when applicable.

1. The capital of ________ Italy is ________Rome.

2. ________ New Jersey is a state on the east coast of the US.

3. ________ Wales is a part of ________ United Kingdom.

4. ________ Scotland is a part of ________ Great Britain.

5. Puerto Rico is not a city in ________ Mexico!

6. How long have you lived in ________ United States?

7. ________ U.S.S.R. no longer exists.

8. How long have you live in ________ America?

9. There’s a song about ________ Chicago, which is also called ________ Windy City.

10. My car was made in _______ U.S.A.

11. ________ Canada is not the largest country in the world, but it’s much bigger than ________ Kingdom of Morocco, which is south of ________ Spain.

12. Should I say _______ People’s Republic of China or just ________ China?

Cassie’s Dilemma

Cassie LaLonde has (a)________ decision to make. She is (b)________ French student, and two different universities have offered her a place to study in their colleges of music: (c)________ University of Midfield in (d)________ United States and (e)________ Oxford University in England. She has always dreamed of visiting (f)________ North America, and she has already seen (g)________ British Isles many times. However, her cousin lives in (h)________ England, and she can room with him and cut costs on rent. She also has (i)________ cousin who goes to (j)________ Cambridge. She knows that (k)________ Midfield is (l)________ famous place for music, but she doesn’t think that (m)________ University of Midfield is as prestigious as (n)_________ Oxford University. This is why Cassie can’t make up her mind between going to (o)________ US or (p)_________UK.

Buildings, Geographical Features and More

Use the with:

- the names of rivers, oceans, seas, and deserts

- plural names

- plural of nationalities (which have no other plural form)

- the names of hotels, motels, theaters, bridges, and buildings

- the names of zoos, gardens, museums, institutes, and companies

- when the noun is the only one that exists

Do not use the with

- the names of single lakes, mountains, islands, or canyons

- the names of hospitals or halls

- the names of stadiums, malls, or parks

Please fill in the blanks when applicable.

1. ________ Beacon is a famous New York theater.

2. Do you think ________ Americans are more talkative than ________British?

3. Do you know why ________ sky is blue?

4. That is ________ Caribbean island.

5. _______Hanging Gardens of Babylon were famous throughout the ancient world.

6. Is this your first time in ________ Uris Hall?

7. ________ Natural History Museum is located on West 81st Street.

8. No pedestrians are allowed to cross ________ Queensboro Bridge.

9. ________Koreans share a border with _______Chinese.

10. ________New York Presbyterian Hospital has a good reputation.

11. Our galaxy is one of many in ________ universe.

12. ________ Wombat Canyon is a dangerous place to go.

13. Who wouldn’t like to sail to ________ Caribbean?

14. ________ Hotel California is mentioned in a well-known song.

15. One of the most scenic rivers in this area is ________ Hudson.

16. The conference will be held at ________ Westin.

17. ________ Nile is one of the longest rivers on earth.

18. ________ Tonga is an island located in ________ Pacific Ocean.

19. Henry Ford founded ________ Ford Motor Company.

20. ________Japanese are famous for their food.

21. One place to go shopping is ________ Manhattan Mall, which is located on ________Sixth Avenue and________ 32nd Street.

22. ________ General Motors is a competitor of _________ Ford Motor Company.

23. ________ Sahara Desert is located in Africa.

24. The Sheridan is a boat that travels ________ Atlantic.

25. Mr. Jones was the pilot of ________ Missouri River steamboat.

26. I am not sure if I prefer ________ Shea Stadium as it is now or ________ old Shea Stadium.

27. ________ Bronx Zoo has so many different kinds of mammals.

28. Have you ever been to ________ Lake Superior or ________ Mr. Everest?

Few vs. a Few & Little vs. a Little

What is the difference in meaning in these sentences?

I have a few friends.

I have few friends.

I have a little energy.

I have little energy.

Use nouns such as money, time, friend, experience, memory, gas, change, sympathy, information, pollution, people, kid, class, idea to complete the sentences below. For each sentence, use either a few/a little or few/little.

1. I had a hard childhood so I ________________________.

2. I’m so broke! I only ________________________________________________.

3. Only after I turned on the engine did I realize that the car ________________________.

4. After she failed out of college, her parents ________________________.

5. She is never lonely because ________________________.

6. Whenever I think about traveling to a new place, I realize that I ________________________.

7. Whenever I think about writing my dissertation, I feel so nervous because I __________________.

Use your own ideas to write the following sentences.

1. Write two sentences.

a. (little water)

b. (a little water)

2. Write two sentences.

a. (few languages)

b. (a few languages)