Two little words, “the” and “a,” give English learners more problems than perhaps any others. Let’s see if we can help.
1 thing, person, or place; something not specific; something mentioned for the first time.
Many things; things specific and known.
Now let’s practice.
A cat lived in a house, where also lived a mouse.
When the words, cat, house and mouse are first talked about, we use “a” because they are not any specific cat, house or mouse. It is not Mrs. Crumpet’s cat or Mr. Milktoast’s mouse. It is just a cat, a house, and a mouse.
The mouse hid a piece of cheese in a cupboard locked with a key.
We now know that the story is about a cat, a house, and a mouse, so we will now use “the” when we talk about them because they are “known” things to us. But we say “a” piece of cheese, a cupboard, and a key because it is the first time we have talked about those things.
The cat looked for the key each day. But the key was hidden far away!
We now use “the” because we are talking about specific things we have already talked about.
Now you try to finish the story!
___ little bird knew where ___ cheese lay.
She stole ___ cheese and flew away!
___ cat and mouse were so surprised!
At first they laughed and then they cried.
A little bird
The cat and mouse