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Lecture 4. The Category of Definiteness/ Indefiniteness


The Category of Definiteness/ Indefiniteness is expressed by means of the Article and is found in any language where the article is used.

The article is a structural part of speech used with nouns.(ДроздоваТ.Ю., Берестова А.И. English Grammar. Reference & Practice, с 183, 2013г)

The morphological function of the article is that of indicating the noun. Its syntactical function is that of defining the left border of an attributive word-combination. The main semantic function of the article is that of actualizing the notion; in other words, the article correlates a notion with the reality represented in the given text, i.e. any utterance irrespective of its volume and contents.

There have always been many discussions about the place of the Article.

Its status in the language is a controversial problem and has been such for centuries. The question is whether the article is a purely auxiliary element of a special grammatical form of the noun which functions as a component of a definite morphological category, or it is a separate word, i.e. a lexical unit in the determiner word set, if of a more abstract meaning than other determiners.

One of the earliest classifications was Ben Johnson's classification. He singled out the article in the special class and added it to the general list of parts of speech. Later grammarians (18, 19th century) classed the grounds that it was usually used with a noun and preceded the noun as the adjective. Their approach was purely structural.

Opinions differ as to the number of articles in English. Recently, widespread has been the theory of three articles: the definite article, the indefinite article and the so-called ‘zero’ article. The theory of the zero article is, of course, directly connected with the theory of the zero morpheme. But if we assume that the article is a word, the concept of a ‘zero’ word seems hardly reasonable.

Barkhudarov considers article to be a formal word which constitutes the class of its own. He distinguishes between indefinite, definite and zero articles.

If we think that the article is a word then it should have a meaning of its own, but the article has no meaning (consider the zero). Some modern structural linguists don't take the trouble of explaining the essence of the article, they just refer it to the class of form words.

Freeze considers the article together with form words where we find "that, those, all, two… ” The approach is one and the same – the position in relation to the noun. All those words have one thing in common which is preposition in relation to the noun.

Francis calls the article one of the noun determiners.

All in all according to some grammarians the Article is a word which constitutes the class of its own, other grammarians claim that Article is included in other classes since it is a structural marker of the word / noun and marks its definiteness / indefiniteness as a grammatical meaning. So it seems advisable to consider the Article the morpheme of the category of definiteness / indefiniteness.

It is a very important text building element. When we introduce a new notion we use the indefinite or the zеrо Article - introductory function. The definite Article presents a notion as known or it refers to the previous text - the anaphoric function.

We should distinguish between the traditional article and the semantic. The traditional article does together with some names or with the phraseological units. Here we don’t have to think of the article, it's a historically and traditionally set phrase.

Set expressions with the definite article: at the beginning, at the end, at the moment, do the dishes, by the way, in the end etc.

Set expressions with the indefinite article: a lot of, all of a sudden, as a matter of fact, as a result etc.

Set expressions without any article: at first (sight), at last, by heart, to have fun, in detail etc.

By the semantic article we mean the article which carries a certain meaning: grammatical, communicative and stylistic.

The definite article is a determining unit of specific nature accompanying the noun in communicative collocation. The semantic purpose of the article is to specify the noun referent. The definite article expresses the identification of the referent of the noun: the use of this article shows that the object denoted is taken in its concrete, individual quality. This meaning can be brought to explicit exposition by a substitution test. The test consists in replacing the article used in a construction by a demonstrative word, without causing a principal change in the general implication of the construction. Cf.:

But look at the apple-tree! → But look at this apple-tree!

The town lay still in the Indian summer sun. → That town lay still in the Indian summer sun.

The water is horribly hot.→ This water is horribly hot.

It's the girls who are to blame. → It's those girls who are to blame.


The indefinite article as different from the definite article expresses a classifying generalization of the nounal referent, or takes it in a relatively general sense.

The zero articleis a variant of the indefinite article in the nominating function with nouns in the plural and uncountables. However there are numerous instances of the nouns without any article which cannot be explained by the nominating function of the indefinite article. Here we should distinguish two cases: traditional non-use and omission due to some semantic (the meaning of the noun, the meaning of the attribute), structural (the syntactic function of the meaning of the noun, the meaning of the noun and the use in some syntactic structures) or stylistic reasons (telegrams, headlines, notices, for expressive charge).

There are examples of semantically unspecified non-use of the article in various combinations of fixed type, such as prepositional phrases: on fire, at hand, in debt, etc., fixed verbal collocations: take place, make use, cast anchor, etc.

We can see stylistic reason of the omission of the article, for instance, in telegraphic speech, in titles and headlines, in various notices. E.g.:

Telegram received room reserved for weekend. (The text of a telegram.)

Conference adjourned until further notice. (The text of an announcement.)

Big red bus rushes food to strikers. (The title of a newspaper article.)

The purposeful omission of the article in cases like that is quite obvious, and the omitted articles may easily be restored in the constructions in the simplest "back-directed" refilling procedures. Cf.:

...→ The telegram is received, a room is reserved for the week-end.

...→ The conference is adjourned until further notice.

...→ A big red bus rushes food to the strikers.


There are also cases of the semantically unspecified non-use of the article in various fixed types combinations: at hand, make news, day by day. Three other types of really semantic absence of the article with the noun are:

1) The meaningful absence of the article before a countable noun in the singular signifies that the noun is taken in an abstract sense and can also be called absolute generalization Charity begins at home.

2) The absence of the article for uncountable noun corresponds to two kinds of generalization, both relative and absolute John laughed with great bitterness – relative.

3) The absence of the article before the countable noun in the plural corresponds to both kinds of generalization Stars, planets and comets are different celestial bodies.

To distinguish the demonstrated semantic functions of the non-uses of the article we may say that the absence of the article with uncountable nouns as well as countable nouns in the plural renders the meaning of uncharacterized generalization as different from the meaning of absolute generalization achieved by the absence of the article with countable nouns in the singular.

The definite article from the point of view of the situational assessment of the article uses serves as an indicator of the type of nounal information which is presented as the fact already known. The indefinite article or the meaningful absence of the article introduces the central communicative nounal part of the sentence – theme. The typical syntactic position of the noun modified by definite article is the thematic subject, while the typical syntactic position of the noun modified by the indefinite article or by meaningful absence of the article is the rhematic subject predicative: “ The day was drawing to a close, the busy noises of the city were dying down,” – subject. “How to handle the situation was a big question.” – predicative.

Another essential contextual-situational characteristic of the articles is their immediate connection with the two types of attributes to the noun. The first type is a "limiting" attribute, which requires the definite article before the noun; the second type is a "descriptive" attribute, which requires the indefinite article or the meaningful absence of the article before the noun. Cf.:

The events chronicled in this narrative took place some four years ago. (A limiting attribute)

She was a person of strong will and iron self-control. (A descriptive attribute)

He listened to her story with grave and kindly attention. (A descriptive attribute)

The role of descriptive attributes in the situational aspect of articles is particularly worthy of note in the constructions of syntactic "convergencies", i.e. chained attributive-repetitional phrases modifying the same referent from different angles. Cf.:

My longing for a house, a fine and beautiful house, such a house I could never hope to have, flowered into life again.


The essential grammatical features of the articles leave no room for misinterpretation at the final, generalising stage of analysis.

The data obtained show that the English noun, besides the variable categories of number and case, distinguishes also the category of determination expressed by the article paradigm of three grammatical forms: the definite, the indefinite, the zero. The paradigm is generalised for the whole system of the common nouns, being transpositionally outstretched also into the system of proper nouns.

The semi-notional determiners used with nouns in the absence of articles, expose the essential article meanings as in-built in their semantic structure.

Thus, the status of the combination of the article with the noun should be defined as basically analytical, the article construction as such being localised by its segmental properties between the free syntactic combination of words and the combination of a grammatical affix with a notional stem in the morphological composition of an indivisible word. The article itself is a special type of grammatical auxiliary.



1.Give examples of articles in set expressions

a) with the definite article

b) with the indefinite article

c) without any article


2.Choose the correct article: the, a/an or zero article.


I bought __ pair of shoes.

I saw __ movie last night.

They are staying at __hotel.

I think __ woman over there! She is a famous actress.

I do not like __ basketball.

That is __ girl I told you about.

__ night is quiet. Let us take a walk!

__ price of gas keeps rising.

John traveled to __Mexico.

Juan is __ Spanish.

I read __ amazing story yesterday.

My brother does not eat __ chicken.

__ love is such __ beautiful thing.

I live in __ apartment. __ apartment is new.

I would like __ piece of cake.

I was in __ Japanese restaurant. __ restaurant served good food.

Sara can play __ guitar.



3. Choose the correct article: the, a/an or zero article.

How did you travel to _Australia? By _ boat or by _ plane?

We’re going on a climbing holiday in _ Alps, in _ France.

I’m really tired. I’m going to go _ home, go to _ bed and listen to _ radio.

When we stayed at my grandmother’s house we went to _ beach every day.

_ Swedish is a difficult language to learn.

My parents gave me _ basketball for my birthday.

My first apartment was on _ Orange Street.




anaphoric [ˌænə'fɔrɪk] анафорический (относящийся к предшествующему отрезку текста)

assessment [ə'sesmənt] оценка

attribute ['ætrɪbjuːt] атрибут, определение

category ['kætəg(ə)rɪ] категория

controversial [ˌkɔntrə'vɜːʃ(ə)l] спорный, дискуссионный

convergence [kən'vɜːʤ(ə)n(t)s] схождение в одной точке; сближение

demonstrative [dɪ'mɔn(t)strətɪv] указательный

explicit [ɪk'splɪsɪt ] ясный, подробный; точный

form word служебное слово

irrespective [ˌɪrɪ'spektɪv] независимый

predicative [prɪ'dɪkətɪv] предикативный (предикатив – именная часть составного сказуемого)

rheme [riːm] рема

substitution [ˌsʌbstɪ'tjuːʃ(ə)n] замена, замещение




1. Блох М.Я. – Теоретическая грамматика английского языка

2. Головачева А.Н. – Concise Theoretical Grammar (краткий курс лекций и практических заданий по теоретической грамматике английского языка)

3. ДроздоваТ.Ю., Берестова А.И. English Grammar. Reference & Practice



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