Well, one thing came in my mind when I've posted a comment on SO.

Comment is: Do you understand English?

Can we write the English or an English ?

I'm generally use Grammar Checker when i confuse, but when i pasted this three different sentences, it shows: No grammar or spelling mistakes found

So, which one is right, and grammatically correct?

  • 3
    Never trust grammar checkers. Grammar checkers for English are just not very good.
    – stangdon
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 20:29
  • 2
    I usually eschew me-too comments, but I want to emphasize the advice from @stangdon above and strengthen it from "not very good" to "a very bad tool for a learner of English," Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 20:37

1 Answer 1


'English' (as in language) is not a quantifiable noun.

You can't use an or the, which are articles used to refer to quantifiables with a non-quantifiable noun. Saying 'the English' or 'an English' (referring to the language itself in a general way, and not referring to a particular English) is just as wrong as saying 'the tea' or 'a sugar'. For these cases, the correct phrases would be 'the cup of tea' or 'a kilo of sugar', being 'cup' and 'kilo' the nouns you are using the articles with. Examples and further explanation on this can be found here.

However, if you'd like to use the, you can say 'the English language' but note that you are using the word as an adjective rather than a noun here, and that 'the' is referring to 'language' rather than to 'English'.

To particularly answer your question, the correct option is "Do you understand English?" and both of the others are wrong.

Hope this clarifies things for you.

  • What about "the rain" and "the soil" and "the water"?- I don't see any problem with "the tea".
    – Cardinal
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 20:10
  • 2
    An exception might be noted for such expressions as I understand the English in this book. Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 20:30
  • 1
    @matias I wasn't sure at all, so I used the ol' reliable might, but I now realize that in a sentence like: I understand the English in "Heart of Darkness", but not in "Gravity" the reference is to a specific example of writing, as in "put three lumps in the tea." So, QED. Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 20:47
  • 1
    @Cardinal giving it another read, the last part also struck me as wrong. I edited that part of my answer. Thanks for noticing.
    – matias
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 20:53
  • 2
    We had a question a while back about "an impeccable English" (like er spricht ein fehlerloses Deutsch). It is possible to use "an English" or "the English" to refer to an idiolect or sociolect or dialect, and in that sense English can be broken into multiple Englishes, licensing the article.
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 22:43

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .