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I have problems with using articles. Sometimes I'm not sure on whether I should put one or not. So, I am wondering, what if I just stop putting articles when I'm in doubt?

And I know that it is annoying when people make mistakes, right? My question is, what would be worse, if I put an article somewhere it doesn't belong, or if I don't put an article somewhere where it's necessary?

Thank you

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    I've just written an answer for another question that may help you. See here. – Nico Mar 1 '14 at 23:14
  • Both are equally bad; either way will sound funny. Keep learning! – relaxing Mar 2 '14 at 2:50
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    No, I don't think it's annoying when people make mistakes – not when they are learning a new language. I think it's understandable :^) – J.R. Mar 2 '14 at 11:28
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    I answered a similar question a few weeks ago. It focuses on the basic usage of English articles. You might find it useful. ell.stackexchange.com/a/17433/3281 – Damkerng T. Mar 2 '14 at 11:51
  • we're very used to this particular mistake ! I don't think we're annoyed by it. – hunter Mar 2 '14 at 12:46
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As for which would be worse, that's very hard to answer without a few examples to consider, so I thought of these:

I bought car on Friday. (should be: I bought a car on Friday.)
I went to store and bought chips. (should be: I went to the store and bought chips.)

Then, I tried to come up with examples where I put an article where it doesn't belong. I found this was much harder to do! Often, including the article doesn't make the sentence wrong, it simply changes the meaning. Consider:

(A) I went to the store and bought ham.
(B) I went to the store and bought a ham.
(C) I went to the store and bought the ham.

All three of those are correct!

Sentence A means that you bought some ham at the store (we don't know how much ham, or what kind of ham – it might be sliced ham, it might be a whole ham, it might be 25 hams).

Sentence B means that you bought one ham at the store (not a package of ham, and not two hams, but one ham).

Sentence C is usually used when the other person is expected to know which ham you are talking about. This might be because you're answering a question:

Where did this ham come from?
That's from me; I went to the store and bought the ham.

Or it might be because there was some context set in the past; for example:

Yesterday:
What do you want to serve at party this weekend?
How about ham and turkey sandwiches?
That's a good idea, but we'll have to buy more ham. We're almost out.

Today:
I went to the store and bought the ham.

(In that last sentence, the inclusion of the word "the" indicates I bought the ham we needed, or, I bought the ham we talked about.)

Of course, here's an example when the article is just wrong:

I went to the store and bought a rice. (should be: and bought rice, or, and bought a bag of rice)

I don't think either gaffe is really any worse than the other. You'll just have to master it through experience. Hopefully, the people you converse with will give you helpful feedback – not with a patience and understanding, but with an attitude of patience and understanding (or simply with patience and understanding).

(We can talk about "my patience," or even say, "he has the patience of a saint;" still, no article was required in that last sentence.)

  • I'm thinking more about mistakes like: "I bought car" or "I bought the chips". – dmitry Mar 2 '14 at 12:03
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You could say "Yesterday. Buy. Car." and people will generally understand what you mean. That's because these are all content words - words which have direct meaning rather than just grammatical function.

But it is not a good idea to speak like this: every time you use an article, or any grammatical word, you are thinking "Is this right?" That is a good thing, because it will motivate you to study and to think carefully when you speak. If you stop using articles, you will not learn about them as easily.

As J.R. points out, sometimes there might be some confusion if you don't use the correct article: using "the" can make someone think they should know what you are talking about. For example:

"I bought a car"

or

"I bought the car".

If you said the second sentence to me, I would think it is a car you had told me about earlier (and I would feel bad that I had forgotten about it!)

But this kind of mistake is not serious, and when you tell me more about the car, I will realise that you meant "a". No big deal.

Leaving out the articles is not worse than using the wrong ones, except for yourself!

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