Language problems

We often see the same language problems over and over again in the manuscripts we receive. Here we discuss some of the more common problem categories.

[Back to language index]


English has three articles: a, an, and the. A and an, the indefinite articles, are used in front of nouns when you don’t want to be specific (I would like a glass slide), and the is used when you do want to be specific (I would like the glass slide that is on the table). You use a in front of words that begin with a consonant (a hat) or sound like they do (a uniform), and you use an in front of words that begin with a vowel (an octopus) or sound like they do (an honor). That’s the easy part.

Some nouns do not take articles. Native English speakers know them, but non-native speakers may not. Knowing when to not use an article is the hard part, especially for speakers of languages that do not have articles.

In general, articles are used in front of countable nouns (nouns that can be made plural) but not in front of uncountable nouns (nouns that cannot be made plural). That’s a little easier to remember when you realize that a and an derive from the word one, and one is the word you start counting with. But it’s not always easy to determine when a noun is uncountable, although it can often be predicted. A noun is probably uncountable if it names an abstract quality (beauty, truth), a field of study (economics, oncology), a language (Farsi, Hebrew), a period of life (infancy, adolescence), or a gas or liquid (oxygen, water). You can read more about countable and uncountable nouns here.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning

[Back to language index]


About us




How to submit manuscripts


Language problems

Useful links


"Understanding" books

Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525-1569)