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IELTS Preparation Series 1, Episode 13: Under the sea


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0:00

Hello. Welcome to Study English, IELTS preparation. I'm Margot Politis.

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We're going to look at articles today - indefinite articles 'a' and 'an', and the definite article,

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'the'.

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But first, let's meet an oceanographer. She's talking about using underwater devices to

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predict weather patterns.

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See if you can hear her using articles while she talks about monsoons.

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The monsoon gets a lot of its energy from the equatorial and sub-tropical Indian Oceans.

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Dr Susan Wijffels, an oceanographer from Australia's CSIRO, is hoping that by measuring the state

0:53

of the Indian Ocean in those areas, scientists will be able to learn something about monsoon

0:57

predictability.

0:59

Predicting the monsoon is a very difficult thing and yet it impacts on millions and millions

1:04

of people, and so we think that, if we can predict the monsoon usefully, we can make

1:09

a real difference.

1:10

We know from El Nino that it's a fully global system, so you just can't study one small

1:16

part of the ocean and solve these problems. You really need a global integrated observing

1:20

system, and the Argo program is the first real big ocean attempt to do that, and it's

1:27

the float technology that's allowed us to even think about doing this.

1:30

Using articles before nouns is one of the most difficult things in learning English.

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You can choose between indefinite articles 'a' and 'an', the definite article 'the',

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or no article at all.

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Let's start with the indefinite articles 'a' and 'an'.

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The rule is that 'a' is used before words starting with a consonant, and 'an' is used

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before words starting with a vowel.

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So we have a banana, but an apple.

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There are a couple of exceptions to the rule. Where the consonant 'h' is not pronounced,

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we use 'an'.

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So we say a happy man, but an honest man. The 'h' is not pronounced, so honest sounds

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like it starts with a vowel.

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Where the vowel 'u' is pronounced like a 'y' sound, we use 'a'.

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So we say an umbrella, but a user, because user sounds like it begins with a 'y'.

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'A' and 'an' are only used with singular nouns. We use 'some' with plural nouns.

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The indefinite articles 'a' or 'an' are used to refer to indefinite things, things that

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aren't specific. You use them when you're referring to any member of a group of things.

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The indefinite article does not refer to a particular thing, but one out of many possible

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things.

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If I say I would like a banana, I just want any banana, it doesn't matter which one.

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Let's look at an example of indefinite articles from the clip.

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Predicting the monsoon is a very difficult thing and yet it impacts on millions and millions

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of people, and so we think that, if we can predict the monsoon usefully, we can make

3:28

a real difference.

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She uses the indefinite article twice.

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She says 'predicting the monsoon is a very difficult thing'. There are many things that

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are difficult to do, and predicting the monsoon is just one of them.

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Secondly she says 'we can make a real difference'. There are many differences that can be made

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in the world, but she is just talking about one of them.

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So when do we use the definite article 'the'?

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Well, we use it when we're referring to definite, specific things. We also use 'the' when we're

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talking about one particular member of a group.

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Luckily there is only one form of the word 'the', and it can refer to both singular and

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plural nouns.

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We say the banana and the bananas.

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There is a difference in pronunciation though, when 'the' comes before a vowel sound, we

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say 'thee', the apples.

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So 'thee' before vowel sounds, and 'thuh' before consonant sounds.

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Let's look at the clip again. Listen for 'the'.

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You really need a global integrated observing system, and the Argo program is the first

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real big ocean attempt to do that, and it's the float technology that's allowed us to

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even think about doing this.

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She says 'the Argo program'. She uses 'the' because there is only one Argo program. It's

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a unique, particular thing.

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She also says 'the float technology'. She is talking about a particular type of float

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technology, not just any float technology.

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There was a third 'the'. She said 'the first real big ocean attempt'.

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We use 'the' in front of first, second and so on, because they refer to something particular

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or unique.

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There can be only one first attempt.

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In the same way we use 'the' in front of superlatives - the best example, the biggest banana and

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so on - because there can only be one best, or biggest, of anything.

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OK. So that's the major difference between definite and indefinite articles, but there

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are other rules as well.

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We use 'a' and 'an' with countable nouns, that is, if the noun can be counted.

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I ate an apple. Apples can be counted.

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We use 'the' with uncountable nouns, with things that you can't count.

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I swam in the water. (Water cannot be counted.)

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I drank the milk. (Milk cannot be counted.)

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We also use 'a' with counting expressions like a bottle of, a cup of, a bit of.

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Listen to this:

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The monsoon gets a lot of its energy from the equatorial and sub-tropical Indian Ocean.

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She says, "The monsoon gets a lot of its energy".

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Look at the monsoon, and the Indian Ocean.

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These are both examples of other rules for 'the'.

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We can use 'the' to describe 'generic nouns'.

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A generic noun is a noun that describes a category or type of thing. It can often be

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the same as using a plural noun.

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So sometimes the monsoon means the same as monsoons. She's talking about monsoons in

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general.

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Predicting the monsoon is a very difficult thing and yet it impacts on millions and millions

7:26

of people, and so we think that, if we can predict the monsoon usefully, we can make

7:31

a real difference.

7:32

We know from El Nino that it's a fully global system, so you just can't study one small

7:37

part of the ocean and solve these problems. You really need a global integrated observing

7:40

system, and the Argo program is the first real big ocean attempt to do that, and it's

7:40

the float technology that's allowed us to even think about doing this.

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And here's another rule. We also use 'the' with oceans, seas, rivers and deserts.

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We say the Indian Ocean, the Yangtze River, the Gobi Desert.

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We also use 'the' for points on the globe - the Equator,

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the Tropic of Capricorn, the North Pole.

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Choosing the right article can be very confusing, but if you follow the general rule that you

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use 'the', the definite article, to refer to a particular thing or things, and 'a' and

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'an', indefinite articles, to refer to one of a number of things, you shouldn't go too

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wrong.

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OK, so now we've seen how to use definite and indefinite articles, but sometimes we

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don't use articles at all before nouns.

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Let's look at when to use no article.

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We've already seen that you can leave the article out when talking about plural generic

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nouns.

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Monsoons are unpredictable.

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But this is true for uncountable generic nouns too.

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Coffee is delicious.

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Happiness is hard to find.

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"Balls are round."

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OK, so let's look at some sentences.

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I would like a cake. (I would like one cake, any cake.)

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I would like the cake. (I would like that particular cake.)

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I like cakes. (I like all cakes.)

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Here, cakes with no article is generic. It refers to cakes in general, all cakes.

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Well that's all for today. Don't forget to practice those articles!

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I'll see you next time for Study English. Bye Bye.

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