Here are the TOP TIPS I give my intermediate and advanced students that will improve your battle with articles. Use this cheat sheet for proofreading your own English.
Tip #1: Pause before using any noun.
Articles need to be taken into consideration before we say or write any noun. Of course there are quite a few rules to keep in mind , but what’s important is that you briefly pause and think about whether the definite, indefinite or no article is needed in front of the noun. This will GREATLY improve your English to make you sound more proficient.
Tip #2: Definite article ‘the’ : It’s not about you, it’s about the listener.
Consider whether the definite or indefinite article is needed based on the perspective of the listener. Does the listener know exactly which thing you are speaking about? Did you already speak about this thing? Are you both in the same room, and the listener can see it? Is it something that is related to a specific place?
examples: The shop I told you about is now closed. Yesterday, I bought a shirt in a different shop.
Tip #3: It’s not about the brand, model or type of thing.
Even if I tell my friend that I have a black Canon 60D camera, there are thousands, probably millions, of such cameras around the world. My friend hears about mine for the first time, so I use the indefinite article “a.”
examples: My old phone broke, so I bought a One Plus Nord phone. The One Plus is a beast!
Tip #4: Other determiners (that, one, my, etc)
Indefinite articles (a,an) can be replaced with the determiners ‘one’ or ‘some.’ If you can put one of those words in front of your countable noun, then use ‘a’ or ‘an.’
The definite article (the) can be replaced with determiners “that one” or “those.” These two imply that the listener and speaker are in the same room and therefore ‘the’ can safely be used in both singular and plural.
examples: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. But some apples are just not that great. The / that women over there is missing a shoe.
Tip #5: Concept vs specific uncountable thing
Uncountable nouns such as, water or traffic, don’t need an article in front of them if we are just speaking about them generally. However, if we use those words in the context of a specific situation or place, the definite article ‘the’ is used.
Examples: Traffic makes me crazy. The traffic in Prague is insane.