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ARTICLES: Choosing a/an, the or nothing (∅) with common nouns.

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Chapters (approx. 16 minutes)
ARTICLES: Choosing a/an, the or nothing (∅) with common nouns

This module is divided into numbered chapters. You can click on the chapter titles listed on the left side on the screen to jump to each particular section. Use the control panel on the lower left-hand side of the screen to pause and resume play, to hide or show captions, and to adjust the volume at any time. Please click the "Start" button below to begin.

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Correct. This is an unspecific, countable, plural noun which does not require an article (∅)


Use the drop-down list below to move between the various exercises. To use the SWS Article Chart while you are working, click the button labeled "show/hide chart." In Exercises A and B, click on the underlined nouns to select the correct article. After making your selection, you will receive immediate feedback and instruction.

When you are finished with the exercises, click on the button labeled "I'm done with exercises," and you will return to the animation.

Exercise A (general writing)

This is an excerpt taken and adapted from the introduction of an argumentative research paper on cap and trade. This paper was submitted by a first year writing student at the University of MN. What article (or any) should be used for the highlighted nouns? (Hint: There are two examples of each rule in the article chart.)

On February 26, 2010, President Obama released proposal to support clean energy by using the money generated by the sales of carbon emission permits (“President's Budget” par. 1). Under his proposed “Cap and Trade” program, “all GHG [greenhouse gas including CO2] emissions credits would be auctioned off, generating estimated $78.7 billion in additional revenue in FY 2012, steadily increasing to $83 billion by FY 2019” (“President's Budget” par. 1). However, according to this same article, this proposal may be dropped (par. 1). Though there is no official reason why proposal may be dropped given in the article, opinions held by those against the proposal are various. The main concerns of these people are the possibility of unemployment, the unfeasibility to auction the permits among carbon emitters, the difficulty of reducing carbon emissions without raising the production cost, and the failure of the European Union’s “Cap and Trade” system for carbon emission. Though these concerns seem reasonable, they are not convincing enough to drop “Cap and Trade.” The U.S. has important reasons to set up this program: the program will bring advantages, reducing carbon emission is popular among groups and states, and the U.S. has already triumphantly controlled the emission of sulfur dioxide by using the “Cap and Trade” system.
Exercise B (field-specific writing)
Sample 1: psychology

This is an excerpt taken and adapted from the introduction of a summary critique paper. This paper was submitted by a graduate student in Education Psychology (social sciences) at the University of MN. What article (or any) should be used for the highlighted nouns? (Hint: There are two examples of each rule in the article chart.)

The multiple-indicator multiple-cause (MIMIC) model introduced by Muthén (1984) has gained considerable attention over the last decades in response to the growing awareness of differential item functioning (DIF) detection in educational tests. However, there has been little comprehensive work on the effectiveness of this model relative to other well-established DIF detection methods, such as the Mantel-Haenszel statistic (MH; Holland & Thayer, 1988), the simultaneous item bias test (SIBTEST; Shealy & Stout, 1993), and the item response theory (IRT)–based likelihood ratio test (IRT-LR; Thissen, Steinberg, & Wainer, 1988). In 2005, Holmes Finch filled the gap in this area with his interesting paper “The MIMIC Model as a Method for Detecting DIF: Comparison with Mantel-Haenszel, SIBTEST, and the IRT Likelihood Ratio” which was published in the journal Applied Psychological Measurement.

By means of simulation study, Finch compared the ability of the MIMIC model to detect DIF (power of test) and the rate of incorrect DIF detection (Type I error rate) with those of previously mentioned methods. In order to generate the data for his study, Finch selected five manipulating factors from various factors found in previous simulation studies, including the number of items, number of examinees, differences between the mean abilities of the reference and focal groups, level of DIF contamination, and amount of DIF in target item. Finch finally concluded that the MIMIC model for DIF detection had a comparable, if not higher, effectiveness (i.e., higher power of test and lower Type I error rate) than the other approaches for 50-item tests or when the two-parameter logistic model underlies the data; by contrast, this model had very high Type I error rates for 20-item tests and three-parameter logistic data. However, although Finch conducted extensive simulation study to evaluate the performance of DIF detection methods, there are some minor problems which may limit the validity and generalizability of his study results.
Sample 2: literature

This is an abstract written by a graduate student in the Department of English (humanities) at the University of MN. The abstract was published online as a part of a proposal submitted to a conference. What article (or any) should be used for the highlighted nouns? (Hint: There are two examples of each rule in the article chart.)

Novel reading has been considered solitary, even secretive, practice since the rise of the genre. The isolation of the act fostered perception that novels are absorptive and contravene intellectual engagement with the written word. Though the canonization of the novel overturned this judgment, genre romance in the twentieth century continues to be dogged by a variation of this critique. Popular romance fiction has been marked as a form of mass culture that creates consumers who pay to receive particular message repeatedly, lacking as they do the desire or capacity to contest it. The advent of Internet, however, has conferred greater visibility on the potential for a communal reading of romance fiction and on the informal, yet perspicacious, analysis that frequently accompanies it. Author websites, bulletin boards, and weblogs demonstrate the working of the e-community of romance readers and challenge the notion of their unquestioning acceptance of the genre. These electronic forums offer a glimpse into conversations in which romance readers evaluate the dominant themes and new impulses in the genre, and question genre commodification and public perception. This paper focuses on on-line discussions (involving both readers and writers) that assess the quality of the genre at the present moment and its fluctuating position between the twin states of literature and commodity. Examining commonly found elements of romance fiction and relating their encounters with non-readers of romance, these communities represent a dynamic model of reading that is determining the future of the genre.
Sample 3: public health

This is an excerpt from a research report written by a graduate student in the School of Public Health at the University of MN. What article (or any) should be used for the highlighted nouns? (Hint: There are two examples of each rule in the article chart.)

Table 2 depicts the probabilities of outcomes after 20 years stratified by margin status and initial treatment strategy. We separately calculated the probability of receiving salvage mastectomy for recurrence events. Both RT and free-margin status significantly reduce the probabilities of ipsilateral DCIS or invasive cancer. In cohort with positive-margin status, RT is able to increase the probability of being event free from 32% to 55% by decreasing ipsilateral DCIS recurrence from 26% to 10% and ipsilateral invasive carcinoma recurrence from 11% to 6%. Furthermore, 30% of the patients who received BCSO and 25% of the patients who received BCSRT will eventually receive mastectomy due to a recurrence event. Similar are better outcomes of BCSRT in the close-margin scenario. For the free-margin group, however, benefit of RT is less significant: In 20 years, the probability of being event free increased only 9% and the probability of receiving a mastectomy decreased by 2%. In addition, the probability of death is trivially higher in the BCSRT group.
Exercise C (self-guided with your writing)

You now have read guidelines for using articles in your writing; in addition, you examined the uses of articles in American academic writing. As a next step in your study of articles, you might find it helpful to complete Exercise C, in which you analyze how you are using articles in your own academic writing. After doing that analysis, you will be able to meet with a writing consultant in Student Writing Support to discuss your decisions about using articles. To begin this exercise, please click the link below and make an appointment for a writing consultation in Student Writing Support.

Now, before you go to that appointment you just made, please complete the following activities:

  1. Identify one or two paragraphs in an assignment you are currently writing for one of your classes. You'll be handwriting information between lines of text in the paragraphs, so you might find it helpful to format the paragraphs as double-spaced. Print the paragraph(s).
  2. Highlight each noun. You could use a highlighter or just underline nouns, using a pen or pencil.
  3. Identify each noun as General, First Reference, Specific, or Unique. Write the identifier above the noun.
  4. Examine each noun that you label as General or First Reference. Identify each of those nouns as Countable or Noncountable; write the identifier above the noun. You may find it helpful to use one of the online dictionaries [link] to confirm your decisions.
  5. For each noun that you label Countable, decide whether the noun is Singular or Plural and write that designation above the noun.
  6. Decide whether to use an article (or other determiner) for each noun; identify which article or determiner to use (if appropriate); write the article or determiner above the noun. If you decide not to use an article or determiner, write ∅ above the noun.
  7. Look at the nouns that puzzle you--you find it difficult to decide what to do about articles or determiners with those nouns. We encourage you to use your understanding of articles and nouns and make the best possible decision about the characteristics of those nouns, and about whether or not to use articles. Then, when you meet with the writing consultant, be sure to ask questions so the consultant can help you better understand some of the challenging instances of using articles.