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I am trying to create a comprehensive flowchart for using the English articles - the, a, an. Can you check it and give me some feedback about errors, inaccuracies, possible improvements? May be some branches can be simplified/generalized? Or some good examples can be added?

A flowchart is a type of diagram that represents a workflow or process. A flowchart can also be defined as a diagrammatic representation of an algorithm, a step-by-step approach to solving a task. From Wikipedia.

The purpose: It is hard to memorizing all article's rules in an unordered, unconnected form, so I want to have the scheme, which I can use for learning grammar rules in a convenient form, as well as a cheat list for rapidly looking in confusing cases. Also, I want to have an algorithm which I can execute step by step to get the right result (mentally or by a computer program). The scheme should have short, illustrative examples for each rule. In fact, I have used it for writing this paragraph, how many article's mistakes I did? :)

The flowchart for facilitation of determination necessity and a type of article. I created this flowchart using an online tool, so you can view the original in a resizable form and clone it for editing: link to the flowchart (doesn't work in Firefox today, use Google Chrome).

enter image description here

The sources I used:

  1. Grammar: Articles.

  2. When to use ‘the’ with country names (+ lakes, rivers, and more).

  3. Articles - when to use 'the' | English Grammar.

Some articles with similar approach:

  1. Articles: Choosing a/an, the, or nothing (ø) with proper nouns

  2. Articles: Choosing a/an, the, or nothing (ø) with common nouns

  3. “Using an articles chart with common nouns.” - the chart in the form of pdf file.

The tool I used: Online flowchart editor.

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    MiniMax, you have my respect for the effort you put into this. But I am not sure that is the best way to go about it. – AIQ Sep 16 at 18:57
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    MiniMax, your work shows you have been putting in a lot of effort. Honestly, I love your approach. But what caught my attention is this: It is hard to memorizing all article's rules in an unordered, unconnected form... cheat list ... If you rely on this, what happens when you don't have access to your "cheat list"? I might be wrong, but you can't memorize things like this, you truly have to understand. – AIQ Sep 16 at 19:28
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    When you get stuck (which many of us do), you can always look into the internet for the correct answer and re-learn WHY that is the correct answer. But if you look into your flowchart or computerized system, you might get the correct answer but not WHY that is the correct answer. Hence, you will not really understand the underlying principles behind the use of the articles. But don't listen to me, go ahead and use it if it helps you. All I am trying to say is, don't rely on it. – AIQ Sep 16 at 19:32
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    @MiniMax - Count me among the skeptics, too. I'm not sure how "comprehensive" your chart is, or how useful it would be for others. Here are a few simple sentences we could try to put through your flow chart: (1) The bigger they are, the harder they fall. (2) The lion is king of the jungle. (3) I traveled the world and the seven seas. (4) A mind is a terrible thing to waste. If someone were to ask me why these didn't use different articles, I don't think your diagram would be the easiest or most reliable way to explain why. But if the effort helped you learn, that's great. – J.R. Sep 16 at 19:34
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    @MiniMax - Yes, the maxim is indeed said both ways, which makes your flow chart even trickier: What do we do when the article is not required, but optional? – J.R. Sep 19 at 18:36
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I think that while this chart will in many cases produce a correct answer, there are edge cases it does not catch. For example, in country names, until 1870 (Bismark's unification) the country now known as Germany was normally called "The Germanies". Cases such as "The Holy Land" do not seem properly handled. It also doesn't seem to catch when a plural countable noun should take an article:

John walked onto the lot. The cars there were all painted green.

There are no doubt other edge cases not currently covered. But more importantly, formatting this as a flowchart implies that there is always one correct answer to the question "is an article required". Often a noun or noun phrase may use or not use an article, perhaps with a change in meaning. And which nouns take articles changes over time, sometimes rather quickly, and may differ between varieties of English. Indian English, in particular, may differ from US English.

English in general has fewer rigid rules than learners used of other languages often suppose.

  • In fact, if I were asked to put articles into the slots of this phrase: John walked onto __ lot. __ cars there were all painted green., I would do it that way: John walked onto a lot ("a", because we know nothing about a lot). The cars there ("the", because they are not any general cars, but the specific cars, which are located "there") were all painted green. And flowchart displays the same logic (indirectly) - the "supposedly familiar" instead of the "specific". But yes, the word "specific" are needed in this block. – MiniMax Sep 16 at 22:06
  • @MinMax, I was thinking of this as part of a narrative in which the lot had been previously introduced, hence 'the lot", but i did not make that clear. – David Siegel Sep 16 at 22:10
  • I understand this. It is just sentence from some text, so "the lot", because a reader knows about it already. I just wanted to analyze separate sentences without implied context - as they are. – MiniMax Sep 16 at 22:14
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    @MinMax I don't know about other people, I don't think of it as an algorithm. Different nouns may affect what article is used, so one could in theory have a different rule for every noun. Personally I figure what feels/sounds right, and then perhaps try to determine what rule it fits. In many cases there is more than one possible choice -- indeed in most cases there is more than one possible choice. – David Siegel Sep 17 at 2:44
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    @MiniMax There's also the problem that your flowchart doesn't account for style, personal opinion, or a much broader context. In this answer, it could be a lot or the lot, despite every other word in the sentence being exactly the same. If all you're doing is looking at a sentence, a flowchart isn't going to do more than just give a general idea; it shouldn't be counted on to get anything right, when there is often more than one version that works. Trying to determine a single answer is almost always going to fail. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Sep 17 at 4:13

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