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Article (grammar)

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For grammatical articles in English, see English articles.

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An article (with the linguistic glossing abbreviation ART) is a word that is used
alongside a noun (as a standalone word or a prefix or suffix) to specify
grammatical definiteness of the noun, and in some languages extending to
volume or numerical scope.

The articles in English grammar are the and a/an, and in certain
contexts some. "An" and "a" are modern forms of the Old English "an", which
in Anglian dialects was the number "one" (compare "on" in Saxon dialects) and
survived into Modern Scots as the number "owan". Both "on" (respelled "one" by
the Norman language) and "an" survived into Modern English, with "one" used as the
number and "an" ("a", before nouns that begin with a consonant sound) as an
indefinite article.

In many languages, articles are a special part of speech which cannot easily be
combined[clarification needed] with other parts of speech. In English
grammar, articles are frequently considered part of a broader category
called determiners, which contains articles, demonstratives (such as "this" and
"that"), possessive determiners (such as "my" and "his"), and quantifiers (such as
"all" and "few").[1] Articles and other determiners are also sometimes counted
as a type of adjective, since they describe the words that they come before. [2]
In languages that employ articles, every common noun, with some exceptions, is
expressed with a certain definiteness, definite or indefinite, as an attribute (similar
to how many languages express every noun with a certain grammatical number
singular or pluralor a grammatical gender). Every noun must be accompanied by
the article corresponding to its definiteness, and the lack of an article
(considered a zero article) itself specifies a certain definiteness. This is in contrast
to other determiners and adjectives, which are typically optional. This
obligatory nature of articles makes them among the most common words in
many languages; in English, for example, the most frequent word is the.[3]
Articles are usually categorized as either definite or indefinite.[4] A few
languages with well-developed systems of articles may distinguish additional
subtypes. Within each type, languages may have various forms of each article,
due to confirming to grammatical attributes such as gender, number, or case, or
else modified as influenced by adjacent sounds as in elision (e.g., French "le"
becoming "l'" before a vowel) or epenthesis (e.g., English "a" becoming "an"
before a vowel).



1Definite article
2Indefinite article
3Proper article
4Partitive article
5Negative article
6Zero article
7Variation among languages
8.1Definite articles
8.2Indefinite articles
9See also
11External links

Definite article[edit]
The definite article is used to refer to a particular member of a group or class. It
may be something that the speaker has already mentioned or it may be
something uniquely specified. The definite article in English, for both singular
and plural nouns, is the.

The children know the fastest way home.

The sentence above refers to specific children and a specific way home; it
contrasts with the much more general observation that:

Children know the fastest ways home.

The latter sentence refers to children in general and their specific ways home.

Give me the book.

refers to a specific book whose identity is known or obvious to the listener; as

such it has a markedly different meaning from

Give me a book.

which uses an indefinite article, which does not specify what book is to be

The definite article can also be used in English to indicate a specific class
among other classes:

The cabbage white butterfly lays its eggs on members of the Brassica genus.

However, recent developments show that definite articles are morphological

elements linked to certain noun types due to lexicalization. Under this point of
view, definiteness does not play a role in the selection of a definite article more
than the lexical entry attached to the article.[clarification needed][5][6]

Indefinite article[edit]
An indefinite article indicates that its noun is not a particular one identifiable to
the listener. It may be something that the speaker is mentioning for the first
time, or the speaker may be making a general statement about any such
thing. a/an are the indefinite articles used in English. The form an is used
before words that begin with a vowel sound (even if spelled with an initial
consonant, as in an hour), and a before words that begin with a consonant
sound (even if spelled with a vowel, as in a European).

She had a house so large that an elephant would get lost without a map.

Before some words beginning with a pronounced (not silent) h in an unstressed

first syllable, such as historic(al), hallucination, hilarious, horrendous,
and horrific, some (especially older) British writers prefer to use an over a (an
historical event, etc.).[7] An is also preferred before hotel by some writers of
British English (probably reflecting the relatively recent adoption of the word
from French, in which the h is not pronounced).[8] The use of "an" before words
beginning with an unstressed "h" is more common generally in British English
than in American.[8] American writers normally use a in all these cases,
although there are occasional uses of an historic(al) in American English.
[9] According to the New Oxford Dictionary of English, such use is increasingly
rare in British English too.[7] Unlike British English, American English typically
uses an before herb, since the h in this word is silent for most Americans. The
correct usage in respect of the term "hereditary peer" was the subject of an
amendment debated in the UK Parliament.[10]
Using a before a word beginning with a vowel sound in unstressed syllables -
such as I left a orange on the working surface. - is not uncommon, but is
universally considered non-standard.

The word some is used as a functional plural of a/an.[citation needed] "An apple"
never means more than one apple. "Give me some apples" indicates more than
one is desired but without specifying a quantity. This finds comparison in
Spanish, where the singular indefinite article "un/una" ("one") is completely
indistinguishable from the unit number, except where it has a plural form
("unos/unas"): Dame una manzana" ("Give me an apple") >
"Dame unas manzanas" ("Give me some apples"). However, some also serves
as a quantifier rather than as a plural article, as in "There are some apples
there, but not many."
Some also serves as a singular indefinite article, as in "There is some person on
the porch".

Proper article[edit]
A proper article indicates that its noun is proper, and refers to a unique entity. It
may be the name of a person, the name of a place, the name of a planet, etc.
The Maori language have the proper article a, which is used for personal nouns; in
Maori, "a Pita" means "Peter". In Maori, when the personal nouns have the
definite or indefinite article as an important part of it, both articles are present;
for example, the phrase "a Te Rauparaha", which contains both the proper
article a and the definite article Te refers to the person name Te Rauparaha.

The definite article is sometimes also used with proper names, which are already
specified by definition (there is just one of them). For example: the Amazon,
the Hebrides. In these cases, the definite article may be considered
superfluous. Its presence can be accounted for by the assumption that they are
shorthand for a longer phrase in which the name is a specifier, i.e. the Amazon
River, the Hebridean Islands. Where the nouns in such longer phrases cannot
be omitted, the definite article is universally kept: the United States, the
People's Republic of China. This distinction can sometimes become a political
matter: the former usage the Ukraine stressed the word's Russian meaning of
"borderlands"; as Ukraine became a fully independent state following the collapse
of the Soviet Union, it requested that formal mentions of its name omit the article.
Similar shifts in usage have occurred in the names of Sudan and both Congo
(Brazzaville) and Congo (Kinshasa); a move in the other direction occurred with The

If a name [has] a definite article, e.g. the Kremlin, it cannot idiomatically

be used without it: we cannot say Boris Yeltsin is in Kremlin.

R. W. Burchfield[11]

Some languages also use definite articles with personal names. For example, such
use is standard in Portuguese (a Maria, literally: "the Maria"), in Greek ( ,
, , ) and in Catalan (la Nria, el/en Oriol). It also
occurs colloquially in Spanish, German, French, Italian and other languages.
In Hungary it is considered to be a Germanism.

Rarely, this usage can appear in English. A prominent example is how President of
The United States and businessman Donald Trump is known as "The Donald", this
wording being used by many publications such as Newsweek and New York Post.
Another is US President Ronald Reagan's nickname of "The Gipper";
[12] publisher issued an article after Reagan's death titled simply
"Goodbye to 'the Gipper'".[13]
Partitive article[edit]
A partitive article is a type of indefinite article used with a mass noun such
as water, to indicate a non-specific quantity of it. Partitive articles are used
in French and Italian in addition to definite and indefinite articles.
(In Finnish and Estonian, the partitive is indicated by inflection.) The nearest
equivalent in English is some, although this is considered a determiner and not an

French: Veux-tu du caf ?

Do you want (some) coffee?

For more information, see the article on the French partitive article.

Haida has a partitive article (suffixed -gyaa) referring to "part of something or...
to one or more objects of a given group or category," e.g., tluugyaa uu hal
tlaahlaang "he is making a boat (a member of the category of boats)."[14]

Negative article[edit]
A negative article specifies none of its noun, and can thus be regarded as
neither definite nor indefinite. On the other hand, some consider such a word to
be a simple determiner rather than an article. In English, this function is fulfilled
by no, which can appear before a singular or plural noun:

No man has been on this island.

No dogs are allowed here.
No one is in the room.

Zero article[edit]
See also: Zero article in English

The zero article is the absence of an article. In languages having a definite

article, the lack of an article specifically indicates that the noun is indefinite.
Linguists interested in X-bar theory causally link zero articles to nouns lacking a
determiner.[15] In English, the zero article rather than the indefinite is used
with plurals and mass nouns, although the word "some" can be used as an
indefinite plural article.
Visitors end up walking in mud.
Variation among languages[edit]

Articles in languages in and around Europe

indefinite and definite articles

only definite articles

indefinite and suffixed definite articles

only suffixed definite articles

no articles

Note that although the Saami languages spoken in northern parts of Norway and Sweden lack articles,
Norwegian and Swedish are the majority languages in this area. Note also that although the Irish and
Scottish Gaelic languages lack indefinite articles they too are minority languages in this area, with English
being the main spoken language.

Articles are found in many Indo-European languages, especially Romance

languages, Semitic languages (only the definite article), and Polynesian languages,
but are formally absent from many of the worlds major languages, such
as Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Russian, the majority
of Slavic and Baltic languages, Yoruba, and the Bantu languages. In some languages
that do have articles, like for example some North Caucasian languages, the use of
articles is optional but in others like English and German it is mandatory in all

Linguists believe the common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, Proto-Indo-

European, did not have articles. Most of the languages in this family do not have
definite or indefinite articles: there is no article in Latin or Sanskrit, nor in some
modern Indo-European languages, such as the families of Slavic languages (except
for Bulgarian and Macedonian, which are rather distinctive among the Slavic
languages in their grammar) and Baltic languages. Although Classical Greek had a
definite article (which has survived into Modern Greek and which bears strong
functional resemblance to the German definite article, which it is related to),
the earlier Homeric Greek used this article largely as a pronoun or demonstrative,
whereas the earliest known form of Greek known as Mycenaean Greek did not
have any articles. Articles developed independently in several language
Not all languages have both definite and indefinite articles, and some
languages have different types of definite and indefinite articles to distinguish
finer shades of meaning: for example, French and Italian have a partitive article
used for indefinite mass nouns, whereas Colognian has two distinct sets of definite
articles indicating focus and uniqueness, and Macedonian uses definite articles in
a demonstrative sense, with a tripartite distinction (proximal, medial, distal)
based on distance from the speaker or interlocutor. The
words this and that (and their plurals, these and those) can be understood in
English as, ultimately, forms of the definite article the (whose declension in Old
English included thaes, an ancestral form of this/that and these/those).

In many languages, the form of the article may vary according to

the gender, number, or case of its noun. In some languages the article may be the
only indication of the case. Many languages do not use articles at all, and may
use other ways of indicating old versus new information, such as topic
comment constructions.

The articles used in some languages

Language definite article partitive article ind
Afrikaans die 'n
Albanian -a, -ja, -i, -u, -t, -t (all suffixes) disa nj
Arabic al- or el ( prefix)
Assamese -t, -ta, -ti, -khn, -khini, -zn, -zni, -dal, -zpa etc. ta, khn, z
Breton an, al, ar un, ul, ur
el, la, l', els, les del, de l', de la un, una
Ses, Lo, los, Es, Sa dels uns, unes
Cornish an
Dutch de, het ('t) een ('n)
English the a, an
Esperanto la
Finnish* se yks(i)
le, la, l' du, de la, de l' un, une
les des des
der, die, das ein, eine, einer
des, dem, den einem, einen
, ,
Greek , ,
, ,
Hawaiian ka, ke he
Hebrew ha- ( prefix)
Hungarian a, az egy
-(i)nn, -(i)n, -(i), -(i)na, -num, -(i)nni, -nu, -(i)ns, -
(i)nnar, -nir, -nar, -(u)num, -nna (all suffixes)
Interlingua le un
Irish an, na
il, lo, la, l' del, dello, della, dell'
Italian un', uno, una,
i, gli, le dei, degli, degl' , delle
-eke -k
Kurdish hend, birr
-ekan -ank
den, di (d'), dat (d') en, eng
Luxembourgish ders/es, der/er
dem, der engem, enger
Manx y, yn, 'n, ny
Norwegian Bokml -en, -et, -a, -ene, -ne (all suffixes) en, et, ei
Norwegian Nynorsk -en, -et, -a, -i, -ane (all suffixes) ein, eit, ei
o, a um, uma
os, as uns, umas
Quenya i, in, 'n
un, o
-(u)l, -le, -(u)a
Romanian unui, unei
-(u)lui, -i, -lor (all suffixes)
nite, unor
Scots the
Scottish Gaelic an, am, a', na, nam, nan
Sindarin i, in, -in, -n, en
el, la, lo un, una
los, las unos, unas
Welsh y, yr, -'r
Yiddish ( der), ( di),
( dos), ( dem) ( a),
( an
* Grammatically speaking Finnish has no articles, but the words se (it)
and yks(i) (one) are used in the same fashion as the and a/an in English and
are, for all intents and purposes, treated like articles when used in this manner
in colloquial Finnish.

The following examples show articles which are always suffixed to the noun:

Albanian: zog, a bird; zogu, the bird

Aramaic: ( shalam), peace; ( shalma), the peace
Note: Aramaic is written from right to left, so an Aleph is added to the end of the
word. becomes when it is not the final letter.
Assamese: " (kitap)", book; " (kitapkhn)" : "The book"
Bengali: "Bi", book; "Biti/Bita/Bikhana" : "The Book"
Bulgarian: stol, chair; stolt, the chair (subject); stola, the
chair (object)
Icelandic: hestur, horse; hesturinn, the horse
Macedonian: stol, chair; stolot, the chair; stolov, this chair;
stolon, that chair
Persian: sib, apple; sibe, the apple. (The Persian language does not have definite
articles. Sibe' man means my apple. One could argue that in rare cases it has.
Sibe' ke' kharidi; "The apple that you bought". But Sibe' in this case is an
abbreviation of Sibi ra' . "That Apple")
Romanian: drum, road; drumul, the road (the article is just "l", "u" is a
"connection vowel" Romanian: vocal de legtur)
Swedish and Norwegian: hus, house; huset, the house; if there is an
adjective: det gamle (N)/gamla (S) huset, the old house
Danish: hus, house; huset, the house; if there is an adjective: det gamle hus,
the old house
Example of prefixed definite article:

transcribed as hayeled, the ,; , transcribed as yeled, a boy :Hebrew

A different way, limited to the definite article, is used by Latvian and Lithuanian.
The noun does not change but the adjective can be defined or undefined. In
Latvian: galds, a table / the table; balts galds, a white table; baltais galds, the
white table. In Lithuanian: stalas, a table / the table; baltas stalas, a white
table; baltasis stalas, the white table.

Languages in the above table written in italics are constructed languages and are
not natural, that is to say that they have been purposefully invented by an
individual (or group of individuals) with some purpose in mind. They do,
however, all belong to language families themselves. Esperanto is derived from
European languages and therefore all of its roots are found in Proto-Indo-
European and cognates can be found in real-world languages like French,
German, Italian and English. Interlingua is also based on European languages but
with its main source being that of Italic descendent languages: English, French,
Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, with German and Russian being secondary
sources, with words from further afield (but internationally known and often
borrowed) contributing to the language's vocabulary (such as words taken from
Japanese, Arabic and Finnish). The result is a supposedly easy-to-learn
language for the world. As well as these "auxiliary" languages the list contains two
more: Quenya and Sindarin; these two languages were created by Professor
Tolkien and used in his fictional works. Despite not being based on any real-world
language family (like Esperanto and Interlingua), these languages share a
common history and have their roots in Common Eldarin, a common ancestor
to both Quenya and Sindarin.

When using a definite article in Tokelauan language, unlike in some languages like
English, if the speaker is speaking of an item, they need not to have referred to
it previously as long as the item is specific.[16] This is also true when it comes to
the reference of a specific person.[16] So, although the definite article used to
describe a noun in the Tokelauan language is te, it can also translate to the
indefinite article in languages that requires the item being spoken of to have
been referenced prior.[16] When translating to English, te could translate to the
English definite article the, or it could also translate to the English indefinite
article a.[16] An example of how the definite article te can be used as an
interchangeable definite or indefinite article in the Tokelauan language would
be the sentence Kua hau te tino.[16] In the English language, this could be
translated as A man has arrived or The man has arrived where
using te as the article in this sentence can represent any man or a particular
man.[16] The word he, which is the indefinite article in Tokelauan, is used to
describe any such item.[16] The word he is used in negative statements
because that is where it is most often found, alongside its great use in
interrogative statements.[16] Though this is something to make note of, he is not
used in just in negative statements and questions alone. Although these two
types of statements are where he occurs the most, it is also used in other
statements as well.[16] An example of the use of he as an indefinite article is
Vili ake oi k'aumai he toki , where he toki mean an axe.[16] The use
of he and tein Tokelauan are reserved for when describing a singular noun.
However, when describing a plural noun, different articles are used. For plural
definite nouns, rather than te, the article n is used.[16] Vili ake oi k'aumai n
nofoa in Tokelauan would translate to Do run and bring me the chairs in
English.[16] There are some special cases in which instead of using n, plural
definite nouns have no article before them. The absence of an article is
represented by 0.[16] One way that it is usually used is if a large amount or a
specific class of things are being described.[16] Occasionally, such as if one was
describing an entire class of things in a nonspecific fashion, the singular
definite noun te would is used.[16] In English, Ko te povi e kai mutia means
Cows eat grass.[16] Because this is a general statement about cows, te is
used instead of n. The ko serves as a preposition to the te The article ni is
used for describing a plural indefinite noun. E i ei ni tuhi? translates to Are
there any books?[16]

Articles have developed independently in many different language families
across the globe. Generally, articles develop over time usually by specialization
of certain adjectives or determiners, and their development is often a sign of
languages becoming more analytic instead of synthetic, perhaps combined
with the loss of inflection as in English, Romance languages, Bulgarian,
Macedonian and Torlakian.

Joseph Greenberg in Universals of Human Language[17] describes "the cycle of the

definite article": Definite articles (Stage I) evolve from demonstratives, and in
turn can become generic articles (Stage II) that may be used in both definite
and indefinite contexts, and later merely noun markers (Stage III) that are part
of nouns other than proper names and more recent borrowings. Eventually
articles may evolve anew from demonstratives.
Definite articles[edit]
Definite articles typically arise from demonstratives meaning that. For example,
the definite articles in the Romance languagese.g., el, il, le, la, lo derive from
the Latin demonstratives ille (masculine), illa (feminine) and illud (neuter).

The English definite article the, written e in Middle English, derives from an Old
English demonstrative, which, according to gender, was
written se (masculine), seo (feminine) (e and eo in the Northumbrian
dialect), or t (neuter). The neuter form t also gave rise to the modern
demonstrative that. The ye occasionally seen in pseudo-archaic usage such as
"Ye Olde Englishe Tea Shoppe" is actually a form of e, where the letter thorn ()
came to be written as a y.

Multiple demonstratives can give rise to multiple definite articles. Macedonian,

for example, in which the articles are suffixed, has (stolot), the
chair; (stolov), this chair; and (stolon), that chair. These derive
from the Common Slavic demonstratives *t "this, that", *ov "this here"
and *on "that over there, yonder" respectively. Colognian prepositions articles
such as in dat Auto, or et Auto, the car; the first being specifically selected,
focused, newly introduced, while the latter is not selected, unfocused, already
known, general, or generic. Standard Basque distinguishes between proximal
and distal definite articles in the plural (dialectally, a proximal singular and an
additional medial grade may also be present). The Basque distal form (with
infix -a-, etymologically a suffixed and phonetically reduced form of the distal
demonstrative har-/hai-) functions as the default definite article, whereas the
proximal form (with infix -o-, derived from the proximal
demonstrative hau-/hon-) is marked and indicates some kind of (spatial or
otherwise) close relationship between the speaker and the referent (e.g., it may
imply that the speaker is included in the referent): etxeak ("the houses")
vs. etxeok ("these houses [of ours]"), euskaldunak ("the Basque speakers")
vs. euskaldunok ("we, the Basque speakers").

Indefinite articles[edit]
Indefinite articles typically arise from adjectives meaning one. For example, the
indefinite articles in the Romance languagese.g., un, una, unederive from
the Latin adjective unus. Partitive articles, however, derive from Vulgar Latin de
illo, meaning (some) of the.

The English indefinite article an is derived from the same root as one. The -
n came to be dropped before consonants, giving rise to the shortened form a.
The existence of both forms has led to many cases of juncture loss, for example
transforming the original a naproninto the modern an apron.

The Persian indefinite article is yek, meaning one.

See also[edit]
English articles
Al- (definite article in Arabic)
Definite description
False title

1. Jump up^ "What Is a Determiner?". YourDictionary.

2. Jump up^ "Using ArticlesA, An, The |". Scribendi.

3. Jump up^ "The 500 Most Commonly Used Words in the English Language". World English. Archived from the original on
13 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-14.

4. Jump up^ The Use and Non-Use of Articles[permanent dead link]

5. Jump up^ Recasens, Taul and Mart

6. Jump up^ Diaz Collazos, Ana Maria. 2016. Definite and indefinite articles in Nikkei Spanish. In Gonzlez-
Rivera, Melvin, & Sessarego, Sandro. New Perspectives on Hispanic Contact Linguistics in the Americas.
Madrid/Frankfurt: Iberoamericana-Vervuert

7. ^ Jump up to:a b New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1999, usage note for an: "There is still some divergence
of opinion over the form of the indefinite article to use preceding certain words beginning with h- when
the first syllable is unstressed: a historical document or anhistorical document; a hotel or an hotel.
The form depends on whether the initial h is sounded or not: an was common in the 18th and 19th
centuries, because the initial h was commonly not pronounced for these words. In standard modern
English the norm is for the h to be pronounced in words like hotel and historical, and therefore the
indefinite article a is used; however, the older form, with the silent h and the indefinite article an, is still
encountered, especially among older speakers."
8. ^ Jump up to:a b Brown Corpus and Lancaster-Oslo-Bergen Corpus, quoted in Peters (2004: 1)
9. Jump up^ Algeo, p. 49.

10. Jump up^

11. Jump up^ Burchfield, R. W. (1996). The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd ed.).
p. 512. ISBN 0199690367.

12. Jump up^


13. Jump up^

14. Jump up^ Lawrence, Erma (1977). Haida dictionary. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center. p. 64.

15. Jump up^ ScienceDirect[permanent dead link] Master, Peter (1997) "The English Article System: acquisition,
function, and pedagogy" in: System, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp. 215232
16. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Simona, Ropati (1986). Tokelau Dictionary. New Zealand:
Office of Tokelau Affairs. p. Introduction.
17. Jump up^ "Genetic Linguistics:Essays on Theory and Method".

External links[edit]

Wikisource has the text of the 1921 Collier's Encyclopedia article Article.

"The Definite Article, 'The': The Most Frequently Used Word in World's Englishes"