Dressing Girls as Boys; A Lesson on Articles (a/an/the) and Gender Issues
I read this article in the New York Times Magazine and was fascinated by the phen0menon of girls dressing as boys in Afghanistan. I also watched the video and was intrigued by the inconsistencies of gender in Afghan society. I’m not sure what language Azita Rafaat, the mother in the story, speaks, however I noticed that she has a similar way of speaking to some of my students. When I listened again I noticed she has difficulties with articles, so here I will explain the English article.
English Practice Pre-Listening Questions:
- Does your country and culture prefer to have boy children over girl children? Why?
- Are there any beliefs about how the gender of a baby is decided?
- Do you have both boys and girls in your family?
- Would you prefer a boy child over a girl child? Why?
- What problems do countries have that show a preference to the boy child over the girl child?
Read through the grammar rules, watch the video, and then do the listening exercises.
English has two articles: the and a/an. The is used to refer to specific or particular nouns; a/an is used to modify non-specific or non-particular nouns. We call the the definite article and a/an the indefinite article.
the = definite article
a/an = indefinite article
For example, if I say, “Let’s read the book,” I mean a specific book. If I say, “Let’s read a book,” I mean any book rather than a specific book.
- a + singular noun beginning with a consonant: a boy; a car; a bike; a zoo; a dog
- an + singular noun beginning with a vowel: an elephant; an egg; an apple; an idiot; an orphan
- In some cases where “h” is pronounced, such as “historical,” use an:
Definite Article: the
The definite article is used before singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific or particular. The signals that the noun is definite, that it refers to a particular member of a group. For example:
- “The dog that bit me ran away.” Here, we’re talking about a specific dog, the dog that bit me.
- “I was happy to see the policeman who saved my cat!” Here, we’re talking about a particular policeman. Even if we don’t know the policeman’s name, it’s still a particular policeman because it is the one who saved the cat.
- “I saw the elephant at the zoo.” Here, we’re talking about a specific noun. Probably there is only one elephant at the zoo.
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
The can be used with uncountable nouns, or the article can be omitted entirely.
- “I love to sail over the water” (some specific body of water) or “I love to sail over water” (any water).
- “He spilled the milk all over the floor” (some specific milk, perhaps the milk you bought earlier that day) or “He spilled milk all over the floor” (any milk).
“A/an” can be used only with count nouns.
- “I need a bottle of water.”
- “I need a new glass of milk.”
Most of the time, you can’t say, “She wants a water,” unless you’re implying, say, a bottle of water.
Geographical use of the
There are some specific rules for using the with geographical nouns.
Do not use the before:
- names of most countries/territories: Italy, Mexico, Bolivia; however, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the United States
- names of cities, towns, or states: Seoul, Manitoba, Miami
- names of streets: Washington Blvd., Main St.
- names of lakes and bays: Lake Titicaca, Lake Erie except with a group of lakes like the Great Lakes
- names of mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Fuji except with ranges of mountains like the Andes or the Rockies or unusual names like the Matterhorn
- names of continents (Asia, Europe)
- names of islands (Easter Island, Maui, Key West) except with island chains like the Aleutians, the Hebrides, or the Canary Islands
Do use the before:
- names of rivers, oceans and seas: the Nile, the Pacific
- points on the globe: the Equator, the North Pole
- geographical areas: the Middle East, the West
- deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas: the Sahara, the Persian Gulf, the Black Forest, the Iberian Peninsula
Omission of Articles
Some common types of nouns that don’t take an article are:
- Names of languages and nationalities: Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian (unless you are referring to the population of the nation: “The Spanish are known for their warm hospitality.”)
- Names of sports: volleyball, hockey, baseball
- Names of academic subjects: mathematics, biology, history, computer science
Practice your English Listening skills:
- What kind of morning is it?
- Azita is the ______ winner. She earns the most money for the family.
- Because she didn’t have any sons she decided to do something ________.
- She has decided to reveal her secret, _______ of the risks posed to her.
- Why is Azita a target?
- How old is she?
- Azita takes ________ from her constituents while she cooks for her guests.
- Azita and her husband are also __________?
Try this grammar practice below:
Complete the gaps with a/an, the or —— (if no article is required)
THE GIRL AND THE WOLF
One afternoon______wolf waited in ______dark forest for____girl to come by. He was very hungry because it had been _____long time since he had eaten anything. Finally,______little girl did come along __path and she was carrying ____basket of food.
____girl was happy, ___weather was good, ____sun was shining and _____birds were singing. She loved _____nature and being with _____animals. “What ____beautiful day!” she thought. She was happy that is was ____holiday and that she wasnʼt at _____school.
______wolf asked her if she was going to visit her grandmother and she said that she was. So ___wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and _____little girl told him. Then he ran off. When _____little girl opened _____door of _____Grannyʼs house she saw that there was somebody in _____bed listening to ______radio, wearing_____nightcap and ____nightdress. When she was ten meters from _____bed she saw that it was not her grandmother but _______wolf, because eerybody knows that ____wolf in ____nightcap looks nothing like your granny. So she took ______gun from her basket and shot _______wolf dead.
Moral: It is not so easy to fool_____little girls nowadays as it used to be.
Questions? Email us, or contact us about English classes.