Include definite and indefinite articles in your documentation. For ease of comprehension and translation, include a, an, and the in your writing.
A and an are indefinite articles and are used before a singular noun. They refer to any member of a group.
The is a definite article. It is used before singular and plural nouns and refers to one or more particular members of a group.
Whether to use a or an depends on the pronunciation of the word that follows it. Use a before any consonant sound; use an before any vowel sound, as in the following examples:
- An hour
- An HTML file
- A hand
- A hotel
- An umbrella
- A union
To complicate matters further, some abbreviations can be both acronyms and initialisms, requiring a in one instance and an in the other. For example, FAQ, which some pronounce "fak" and others spell out, requires an when spelled out and a when pronounced as a word. In some cases, it can be best to use the article that aligns with how the abbreviation is pronounced. The following list provides our recommendations for which article to use:
- A SQL (database)
- An FAQ
Two pages with more detailed information about articles:
- Grammar Girl on When to Use Articles Before Nouns
- The Purdue Online Writing Lab on Using Articles