A ticket collector in a train found an old worn out wallet in a compartment full of many people. He looked inside to find the name of its owner. There was no clue. All that there was in it, was some money and a picture of Krishna. He held it up and asked, “Who does this wallet belong to?”
An old man said, “That’s my wallet, please give it to me.” The ticket collector said, “You’ll have to prove that it is yours. Only then I can hand it over to you.” The old man smiled a toothless smile and said. “It has a picture of Krishna in it.” The ticket collector said, “That is no proof; anyone can have a picture of Krishna in his wallet. What is special about that? Why is your picture not there in it?”
The old man took a deep breath and said, “Let me tell you why my picture is not there in it. My father gave this wallet to me when I was in school. I used to get a small sum as pocket money then. I had kept a picture of my parents in it.
When I was a teenager I was greatly enamored by my good looks. I removed my parent’s picture and put in, one of my own. I loved to see my own face and my thick black hair. Some years later, I got married. My wife was very beautiful and I loved her a lot. I replaced my own picture in this wallet with a picture of her. I spent hours gazing at her pretty face.
When my first child was born, my life started a new chapter. I shortened my working hours, to play with my baby. I went late to work and returned home early too. Obviously, my baby’s picture occupied the prized position in my wallet.”
The old man’s eyes brimmed with tears as he went on. “My parents passed away many years ago. Last year my wife too left her mortal coil. My son; my only son is too busy with his family. He has no time to look after me. All that I had ever held close to my heart is far, far away from my reach now. Now I have put this picture of Krishna in my wallet. It is only now that I have realized that He is the eternal companion. He will never leave me. Alas! If only I had realized this before. If only I had loved the Lord all these years, with the same intensity as I loved my family, I would not have been so lonely today!”
The collector quietly gave the wallet to the old man. When the train stopped at the next station, the ticket collector went to the book stall at the platform and asked the salesman, “Do you have any pictures of God? I need a small one to put in my wallet!”
It’s your attitude and not your aptitude that determines your altitude.
In English, knowing when to use ‘a’ or ‘the’ can be difficult. Fortunately, there are rules to help you, but you need to know what type of noun you are using.
Grammar rule 1
When you have a single, countable English noun, you must always have an article before it. We cannot say “please pass me pen”, we must say “please pass me the pen” or “please pass me a pen” or “please pass me your pen”.
Nouns in English can also be uncountable. Uncountable nouns can be concepts, such as ‘life’, ‘happiness’ and so on, or materials and substances, such as ‘coffee’, or ‘wood’.
Grammar rule 2
Uncountable nouns don’t use ‘a’ or ‘an’. This is because you can’t count them. For example, advice is an uncountable noun. You can’t say “he gave me an advice”, but you can say “he gave me some advice”, or “he gave me a piece of advice”.
Some nouns can be both countable and uncountable. For example, we say “coffee” meaning the product, but we say “a coffee” when asking for one cup of coffee.
Grammar rule 3
You can use ‘the’ to make general things specific. You can use ‘the’ with any type of noun – plural or singular, countable or uncountable.
“Please pass me a pen” – any pen.
“Please pass me the pen” – the one that we can both see.
“Children grow up quickly” – children in general.
“The children I know grow up quickly” – not all children, just the ones I know.
“Poetry can be beautiful”- poetry in general.
“The poetry of Hopkins is beautiful” – I’m only talking about the poetry Hopkins wrote.
More uses of articles in English
Rivers, mountain ranges, seas, oceans and geographic areas all use ‘the’.
For example, “The Thames”, “The Alps”, “The Atlantic Ocean”, “The Middle East”.
Unique things have ‘the’.
For example, “the sun”, “the moon”.
Some institutional buildings don’t have an article if you visit them for the reason these buildings exist. But if you go to the building for another reason, you must use ‘the’.
“Her husband is in prison.” (He’s a prisoner.)
“She goes to the prison to see him once a month.”
“My son is in school.” (He’s a student.)
“I’m going to the school to see the head master.”
“She’s in hospital at the moment.” (She’s ill.)
“Her husband goes to the hospital to see her every afternoon.”
Musical instruments use ‘the’.
“She plays the piano.”
Sports don’t have an article.
“He plays football.”
Illnesses don’t have an article.
“He’s got appendicitis.”
But we say “a cold” and “a headache”.
Jobs use ‘a’.
“I’m a teacher.”
We don’t use ‘a’ if the country is singular. “He lives in England.” But if the country’s name has a “plural” meaning, we use ‘the’. “The People’s Republic of China”, “The Netherlands”, “The United States of America”.
Continents, towns and streets don’t have an article.
“Africa”, “New York”, “Church Street”.
Theatres, cinemas and hotels have ‘the’.
“The Odeon”, “The Almeira”, “The Hilton”.
Abbreviations use ‘the’.
“the UN”, “the USA”, “the IMF”.
We use ‘the’ before classes of people.
“the rich”, “the poor”, “the British”.