Article rules and examples for OET and healthcare writing
In the healthcare sector, clear communication is vital. One area that often poses challenges for non-native English speakers is the correct usage of articles. This guide provides an in-depth look at article rules, focusing on their relation to countable and uncountable nouns.
A word about nouns
To use articles correctly, you need to understand nouns.
Countable nouns: These can be singular (one) or plural (more than one) and can be counted.
Example: "A patient was admitted." (Singular) vs. "Three patients were admitted." (Plural)
Uncountable nouns: These can't be counted as they represent a mass, concept, or quantity.
Example: "She gave advice on post-operative care." (Not "an advice" because advice is uncountable
Introduction to articles
Articles are words that accompany and give context to nouns. They can be:
Definite article: 'the'
Indefinite articles: 'a' and 'an'
Zero article: no article
The definite article: 'the'
Use 'the' when referring to specific nouns, whether they are singular, plural, countable, or uncountable.
Singular, countable: "The patient in room 12 needs attention."
Plural, countable: "The patients in the ICU are critical."
Uncountable: "The equipment has been delivered."
The indefinite articles: 'a' and 'an'
These are used with singular, countable nouns. The choice between 'a' and 'an' depends on the sound that follows.
Use 'a' before consonant sounds: "a patient", "a treatment"
Use 'an' before vowel sounds: "an examination", "an IV drip"
Note: the choice between ‘a’ and ‘an depends on the following vowel sound, not just the vowel. E.g. We say, ‘an MRI’ because of the pronunciation of m (“Em”). And we say, ‘a urologist’ because of the pronunciation of start of the word (“You”).
"A nurse is required in the ER."
“She presented with a persistent cough.”
“He was treated for a fever and complained of a headache.”
"An ultrasound revealed the issue."
“He requires an X-ray of the area.”
The zero article
No article is used with plural countable nouns and uncountable nouns when speaking generally.
"Doctors need to be vigilant during operations."
“She was prescribed antibiotics.”
“Investigations revealed a previously undiagnosed heart condition in the patient.”
“She complained of headaches and stomach cramps.”
"She presented to the Emergency Department with nausea and dizziness."
“Physiotherapy will help Mr X to regain mobility.”
“High blood pressure can result from stress.”
“Care must be taken when sterilising equipment before surgery.”
Remember, the zero article is used when speaking about things in general, not specific instances. So, "doctors" refers to the profession as a whole, not a specific group of doctors. Similarly, "equipment" refers to the concept in general, not a specific piece of equipment.
Advanced Tips for OET Candidates
Context is Key: In healthcare, the context often determines the article. “The operation” refers to a specific operation, while “an operation” could refer to any operation.
Consistent Practice: Engage in reading medical journals, writing mock reports, and participating in medical discussions. As you do, notice how articles are used or omitted and consider why.
Common OET questions: Articles with symptoms and conditions
Many common symptoms are countable, so you use an indefinite article in the singular. E.g.,
- a cough
- a runny nose
- a headache
- a swollen ankle
- a fever
- a sore throat
- a muscle cramp
- a migraine
However, note that some are uncountable, so usually do not need an article:
- hearing loss
All of these common conditions do not usually take an article:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Chron’s disease
- hay fever
Common mistakes and corrections
Overusing 'the': Avoid using 'the' unnecessarily. For instance, "She has diabetes" is correct, not "She has the diabetes."
Misunderstanding uncountable nouns: Words like 'equipment' and 'advice' are uncountable. So, it's "Give some advice" not "Give an advice."
Not using an article with singular countable nouns: A singular countable noun always needs an article (a, an, the) or a determiner (e.g. his, her, that, this). So, “She received treatment for sprained wrist” should be, “She received treatment for a sprained wrist,’ or “She received treatment for her sprained wrist.”
Understanding the relationship between articles and nouns (countable, uncountable, singular, and plural) is crucial for clear communication in healthcare. With consistent practice, you'll master the nuances in no time! Try our quiz below to check your understanding of articles.
Test yourself with our quiz
Fill the gaps with a, an, the, or no article.
- the / 2. an / 3. no article / 4. a / 5. no article / 6. no article / 7. an / a