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In this exercise for practising articles in English, for a given excerpt from our corpus, we replaced all articles a, an and the with choice list gaps. Moreover, in places where some of you might expect an article ‒ but in reality in English article isn't there, we also placed gaps. This part was especially tricky as for having accomplished this, we needed correctly recognise points where noun phrases start.
As you might expect this was the domain of natural language processing algorithms. The result is not perfect ‒ but a gap in an absolutely unexpected place doesn’t harm too much anyway but still might require some grammar knowledge to choose empty space as an answer. Most importantly, statistically it works fine and you have a feeling that you can never be sure what to expect.
This exercise is probably the most important one. Many English learners struggle with proper usage of articles in English. There are many other exercises available for articles in English, but majority of them are just illustrations to oversimplified rules and some of them are simply too short to recognise the context. The a versus the problem is very difficult for learners not because they are not able to follow a few simple rules. It is difficult because there are no simple rules. As you will notice, in case of articles in English, there are many edge cases for which it is more a question of writer’s style than grammatical correctness and you may even observe some authors’ consistency if you choose to generate series of exercises from texts of the same author.
Our main philosophy is that you try to match the original text, not to find all possible correct answers. In some cases more than one choice is grammatically correct. Unfortunately, we are unable jet to address this problem properly, so this exercise works one way only. When you match the original, you are sure you are correct. If there is no match, you need to be careful with your judgement, however statistically speaking, it is more likely you did a mistake.