When Do I Use “A” and When Do I Use “The”?

One of the more difficult aspects of English are the articles, and not just the ones found in newspapers. Using “a” and “the” take years for most English natives to fully grasp, and much longer for those attempting to gain English abilities. The differences are striking, and there are many instances where “the” and “a” are not interchangable.
The word “The” is used to refer to something known by both the speaker and the listener. In the previous sentence as well as the sentence you are reading, there are 6 instances of “the”, each referencing something that we both clearly know to avoid confusion. “The word” refers to the word in question, which is “The”. “The speaker” is the person speaking, and “the listener” is the person listening, both known to both people. The “the” in quotes refers to the word “the”.
To clearly teach the word (“the”), have the student write the following sentence on paper, and identify all instances of “the” and what they reference;
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

a clipart

Image of the letter and word “a” in uppercase

To contrast, “a” refers to any instance of the object in question. If the teacher were to mention that they were going to “The Family Mart”, it would be assumed that the student is in some way familiar with that location, whereas “A Family Mart” could be any location located in Japan. If the teacher asked the student to write “The word”, the student should write “the”, whereas “A word” could be “pencil”, “hotcakes”, “button”, or any other word allowed in the classroom.
After explaining usage to the student, have them write the following sentence;
A quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.

Have the student compare and contrast the two sentences to demonstrate understanding. This activity should take between 3 to 5 minutes. When the student successfully is able to show strong knowledge of “the” and “a”, reward them with a smile or a sticker in their reward booklet.

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