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Using the correct articles to describe body parts and locations on the body

Using the best article – “a/an” or “the” – to describe body parts or locations on the human body is a great way to make your sentence clearer.

Here are some guidelines to help you choose the right article for the body parts or locations on the body that you are describing.

Look at this sentence:

“On examination, it was noted that a left ankle was swollen”.

Is there something wrong with the sentence? Does the patient have more than one left ankle?

While it is necessary to use an article before this countable noun (ankle), the patient only has ONE left ankle, so “the” should be used.

The definite article (the) is used when we refer to a part of the body. This is because there is only ONE “right leg” or “neck” or “left kidney” belonging to the patient. It is understood that we are only describing one specific, known position or location. Learn more about when to use the different articles in your writing.

Test your knowledge 1: Which of these two sentences is correct?

A) Ms X was admitted to hospital on 3rd July 2020 for removal of a lump in the left breast.
B) On examination, there was significant bruising to a left upper arm.

ANSWER: A

Here are some key phrases relating to position or location:

– on the left side of the… posterior to the…
– on the right side of the… between the…
– on the back of the… at the edge of the…
– on the surface of the… in the centre of the…

It is important to learn these groups of words in chunks (prepositions and articles which collocate with parts of the body).

Consider each noun and whether it is something which could exist in many different places, or only exist in one place. Study this example:

“On examination, there was *a bruise on the lower left leg.”

*The bruise could be one of many others, so it is appropriate to use ‘a’.

Test your knowledge 2: Try to complete these sentences with the correct article.

1. Mr X is recovering in hospital, after the removal of … 3 cm cyst from … left foot.

2. Investigations have confirmed … infection in … upper respiratory tract.

3. … pap smear revealed no abnormal findings in … cervix.

ANSWERS:

  1. a 3 cm cyst/ the left foot
  2. an infection/ the upper respiratory tract
  3. a pap smear/ the cervix

Alternatively, can we replace ‘the’ with another word, such as – his/her/their?

The answer is yes!

These are possessive pronouns and of course these can be written in front of nouns.
Example: The bruise was in the centre of her chest.

Bonus grammar tip: Discover how to accurately use pronouns to help you master possessive pronouns.

Numbers can be placed in front of the noun too:
Example: X-rays revealed fractures in three fingers

There are many other types of words, called quantifiers which can precede nouns in English.

Examples:

  • Most of the bruises were on her arms
  • There was a lack of support from the family.

We’ve covered the tips and tricks to understanding which articles go with body parts and locations. Read our Ultimate OET Writing Guide for more writing tips to help you improve your Writing skills.

OET Writing Guide