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Articles

The term "articles" refers to the three words "a," "an," and "the." Students sometimes leave articles out of their sentences in an effort to be more efficient or to "sound like a lawyer." However, the result of leaving articles out is bad writing. Use articles wherever they are required: there is no "lawyers' exception." Students whose native language is an Asian language should be particularly careful to check for the proper use of articles when writing in English, since articles are not used in many Asian languages.

1. Avoid Lawyers' Noises. Leaving an article out of a sentence will not make it much more concise, but it will make the sentence more difficult to read. Don't try to write "like a lawyer": it is far better that your writing be considered literate than lawyer-like.

Incorrect: Police officer moved evidence to avoid disappearance from crime scene.

Correct: The police office moved the evidence to avoid its disappearance from the crime scene.

Incorrect: Abrams, officer on duty at time of crime, testified against defendant, Joanna Stone.

Correct: Abrams, the officer on duty at the time of the crime, testified against the defendant, Joanna Stone.
 


2. Choosing between "a" and "an." The general rule is simple: use "a" before nouns beginning with a consonant and "an" before nouns beginning with a vowel. The more difficult question, discussed below in item 3, is how to deal with vowel sounds and voiced consonants.

Incorrect: The judge had an gavel, and he used it frequently.

Correct: The judge had a gavel, and he used it frequently.

Incorrect: The judge had a elephant in her courtroom, though nobody noticed.

Correct: The judge had an elephant in her courtroom, though nobody noticed.

3. Vowel Sounds and Voiced Consonants. Sometimes a word begins with a consonant, but sounds as if it begins with a vowel (thus, "vowel sounds"). These words should be treated as if they start with a vowel in deciding which article to use. The most common among these are words beginning with the letter "h" (such as "hour" and "heir"). However, if you pronounce the consonant ("voiced consonants"), then use the article "a," as you would with most other consonants. Thus, the word "heir" begins with a vowel sound, while the word "hotel" begins with a voiced consonant.

The following is an example of using articles with consonants that sound like vowels.

Incorrect: The judge gave the lawyers a hour's recess to review the new evidence.

Correct: The judge gave the lawyers an hour's recess to review the new evidence.

The following is an example of using articles with voiced consonants.

Incorrect: The professor was well known for posing an hypothetical question when students suggested that one rule would suffice for all situations.

Correct: The professor was well known for posing a hypothetical question when students suggested that one rule would suffice for all situations.


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