To begin with and to make things clear - I am not trying to find an excuses to "not to learn" English articles.

I am wondering, if a native speaker (NS) sees a message with wrong article (or without it when using is necessary) how does he feel?

  • Does NS naturally feel that this sentence is odd?

  • Can NS not understand the sense of that sentence at all, and even following and preceding sentences cannot help him?

  • Or maybe NS sees mistake, counts it as a mistake, but does not care much?

  • Can NS precisely understand the text (like a chapter of any novel) with no articles at all?

  • Does NS confuse articles themselves, and how often they do it?

Once again, it is just my curiosity about how NS feels articles (because I have no articles in my language), not a discourse what they are, and why we should (or should not) learn them.

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    Please post example sentences. – Davo May 15 '17 at 20:40
  • Either your sentence may not be understood at all, or a native speaker will realize you are not a native speaker. It is possible to still communicate and be understood even if the wrong verb tense, or pluralization, of gender pronoun is used. Whether or not they are forgiving for your mistakes or think you are an idiot is up to the individual native speaker. I'm sure the same happens for other languages. For example, the French appreciate if a tourist tries to speak French, but hates it when they speak incorrectly. – Peter May 15 '17 at 20:48
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    Articles aren't just nonsense filler symbols, they provide context. For example, how many are you talking about? Are you talking about a specific case, a special well known case, any case, or a concept in general? Leaving them out makes thing more ambiguous, or at least makes people work harder as a detective to piece together the precise intended meaning from contextual clues. To a native speaker, absence of articles is an immediate giveaway of a non-native speaker. As far as how it makes a native speaker "feel", when I see Brits write, "I'm going to hospital", it makes my teeth itch. :-) – fixer1234 May 15 '17 at 20:51
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    @Peter I don't know that I would make an absolute negative generalization about an entire nationality. I have found that attitude in France, but I have also found the opposite. My grandfather, spent much of his life in Morocco, and spoke good French but with a pronounced American accent. He once told the story of apologizing for his French to a Frenchman. The response was "Not at all. It shows that you are a foreign gentleman who has gone to the trouble of learning our language rather than a button salesman from Manchester." – BobRodes May 16 '17 at 3:44
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    @fixer1234 There are Brits who have a similar attitude towards our American idiosyncrasies. I recall being in school in England and asking someone at school dinner to pass the "to-MAY-toes." The whole table looked at me as if I had just grown a second nose! – BobRodes May 16 '17 at 3:49

In English, it is more typical to see a missing article than a wrong one. The only articles are a, an and the. They are not inflected as they are in many other languages.

So, mistakes just sound a bit funny, or they can give slightly the wrong meaning to a sentence. Consider these two sentences:

I picked up a car and went downtown.
I picked up the car and went downtown.

Unless a different context is provided, the first means that you picked up a car that wasn't your own, while the second means you picked up your own car. ("The car" has the idiomatic meaning of "my car.")

Now look at this:

I rented a car. I picked up the car and went downtown.

Now, "the car" refers to the car that you rented in the previous sentence. Suppose you wrote this instead:

I rented a car. I picked up a car and went downtown.

This would sound strange, because it sounds like you are talking about two different cars. Finally, suppose you wrote this:

I rented the car. I picked it up and went downtown.

In this case, people would wonder which car you were talking about, unless you had already explained that previously.

The general rule is that a or an (an is used when preceding a word beginning with a vowel) refers to a previously unspecified or unknown noun, whereas the refers to a previously specified or known noun. So, for example, we always say the weather because there is only one weather, and we know which weather the writer is referring to. On the other hand, we might say a weather pattern if the writer doesn't specify a specific weather pattern elsewhere defined.

Now, if the article is missing altogether and should be there (there is usually an article, but there are several specific cases where there is not), it usually gives the impression that the writer is from Eastern Europe or Russia. I'll use your question as an example (are you from Eastern Europe or Russia?):

if a native speaker (NS) sees a message with wrong article (or without it when using is necessary)

Corrected, this would read

if a native speaker (NS) sees a message with the wrong article (or without it when using it is necessary)

We could say a wrong article, but typically would say the wrong article. This is probably because there is only one wrong article, since there are only two to begin with.

Perhaps one of the reasons that leaving out articles gives the impression of a Russian accent is an old joke from comedian Yaakov Smirnoff:

In America, you can always find party. In Russia, Party always finds you!

We would say this:

In America, you can always find a party. In Russia, the Party always finds you!

We use "the" in the second case because we already know which party we are talking about.

So, again, we use an article in front of most nouns. As you can see, sometimes there is an adjective between the article and the noun, which can be a source of confusion. There are exceptions, for example "confusion" in the previous sentence and "exceptions" in this one.

This is a good overview of the rules for articles.


Misuse of articles and pronouns rarely interferes with comprehension, but it makes a text feel, to NS, very awkward and foreign.

If you speak a Slavic language, you could equate it to using the wrong case for a noun. You can typically tell what the person is trying to say, but there is no mistaking that it's just wrong.

If you speak an East Asian language, imagine someone uses the wrong counting word. If said I owned "6 [number of animals] books", you would still understand me, but it would take you a moment, and you'd know I was not a native speaker.


Omitting articles does make English sound unnatural, but not necessarily broken to the point of misunderstanding. Despite this caveat, most sentences that omit articles will be measurably improved with articles.

Take for example:

The Monday before last was a holiday and a welcome one.

Now remove the articles:

Monday before last was holiday and welcome one.

The sentence makes sense, but it has lost much of its clarity. The adjective welcome now becomes ambiguous. I would be unsurprised to hear "Pardon?" in response. You would immediately be pegged for a ESL speaker.

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