M. C. A. Hogarth (haikujaguar) wrote in linguaphiles,
M. C. A. Hogarth

Articles in Your Language

I've been researching articles and for some reason (are they less glamorous or something?) they get little love in comparison to discussions of pronouns, adjectives, etc. So I have come to Livejournal, which has never failed me for thoughtful discussion. How do articles work in the languages you speak? Do you need them? Are they tacked onto the nouns, hang out by themselves, vanish when inapplicable? Are they gendered? Numbered? Definite or not? I am all ears, and grateful for the education. :)
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No articles! \o/

There are no definitive articles in Chinese (the) but a/one does come up once in a while. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on Chinese grammar:

"Chinese does not have articles as such; a noun may stand alone to represent what in English would be expressed as "the ..." or "a(n) ...". However the word 一 yī "one", followed by the appropriate classifier, may be used in some cases where English would have "a(n)". It is also possible, with many classifiers, to omit the yī and leave the classifier on its own at the start of the noun phrase."
From what I've read of Cantonese grammar, I get the impression that classifiers are even more "article-like" in that language than in Standard Mandarin.
I get the impression that classifiers [in Cantonese] are even more "article-like" in that language than in Standard Mandarin.

That's interesting. I've never heard that before and I can't say anything about that right now. My fluency in Cantonese is more of a passive nature than a natural, active nature. If you have any examples of the more "article-like" Cantonese classifiers on hand, I can tell you my impressions. As of now, nothing comes to mind.
Hindi has no definite article. Definiteness can sometimes be indicated by the use of dative rather than accusative constructions (but this is not possible for the subject of main verb).

As in many languages, the words for "one" and "some" can function somewhat like the English indefinite article.
I'm extremely grateful there are no articles in my native language (Czech).
So am I (Russian) :)


2 years ago

I think articles get a lot of attention, but normally as part of the more general topic of definiteness rather than on their own. (As others have pointed out, many languages lack articles, but they all have some means of indicating definiteness or indefiniteness.)
In Spanish we have gendered numbered definited articles -el, la, los, las- and gendered numbered indefinited articles -un, una, unos, unas-. They go always before the noun -el coche, las mesas-.

Sometimes, plural indefinited articles can be omitted: "Ayer compré unos libros" has the same meaning than "Ayer compré libros",
*curious* Do you read those last two sentences the same? I would think the first one 'I bought some books' and the second 'I bought books' and those feel different to me.


2 years ago

Portuguese articles work the same way as in Spanish. They can be definite or indefinite, masculine or feminine, and singular or plural: o, a, os, as, um, uma, uns, umas. They always come before the noun or adjective: "o carro branco" (the white car), "o pequeno príncipe" (the little prince), "uma noite fria" (a cold night). One interesting feature is that they're used even before proper nouns, like people's names, countries, and sometimes even cities: "o Brasil", "a Itália", "a Maria", "o Carlos", "o Rio de Janeiro".

Also, there's definitely a (subtle) difference between "Ontem comprei uns livros" and "Ontem comprei livros". "Uns livros" means "some books" or "a few books", so you get the idea that it wasn't many books. "Comprei livros" doesn't tell you whether it was many books or a few; all you know is that it was more than one. :) I think the same difference applies in English, "I bought some books" and "I bought books."
Welsh: definite article but no definite article. Different form before vowels and consonants. Article itself not gendered but feminine nouns take soft mutation after it.
I find it amusing that the basic form is yr, but in some cases this drops the y and in others the r.
Does it differ in the plural?

Irish also has definite articles, an and na, where the former is used for all singulars except feminine genitive, and the latter is used for the feminine genitive singular and all plurals. Mutations vary.
No articles in Japanese.
You might also want to search for the term "determiner." In general linguistics, that is used much more often than "article."
Hebrew & ancient Greek have definite but not indefinite articles. Latin has no articles, but it seems that all the romance languages developed them -- the indefinite from "unus" & the definite from "ille".
As others have already said, we don't have articles in Russian, and most people have difficulties in understanding the very concept of articles when studying foreign languages that have them. So we never feel like we need articles, though sometimes we need to indicate whether we are talking about "a box" or "the box", but then we just put "some/any box" or "this/that box", and that's it.
Romanian also has articles. Definite articles get tacked on to the end of the word and they change for gender ie -ul for masculine/neuter and -a for feminine.
So creion (pencil) becomes creionul (the pencil).
However if you used an indefinite article it would be 'un' and it would be placed before the word. Again it takes gendered forms, so 'un' and 'o' for masculine/neuter and feminine respectively.
Creion is actually neuter, so it would be "un creion" (a pencil).
A feminine noun would be "masã" (table) so "o masã" (a table) vs "masa" (the table).

We also have akin to the Spanish 'unos' 'unas' the word "nişte", meaning "some". This word doesn't change for gender. So you can say "nişte mese" (some tables) or nişte pioni (some pawns). Just like with Spanish it would be followed by the plural form of the noun.

I hope this helps. ^_^


April 11 2014, 09:12:53 UTC 2 years ago Edited:  April 11 2014, 09:18:19 UTC

In my native language German we have indefinite and definite, gendered singular articles, "ein"/"der" (masculin), "eine"/"die" (feminine), "ein"/"das" (neuter), and "die" for all plural gendered definite articles (there is no indifinite plural) . Some genders of the terms are different from other languages, so moon and death in German are males ("der Mond", "der Tod"), girl is a neuter ("das Mädchen") and sun a female ("die Sonne").
My native language has already been taken, so I'll just say something about Latin :).

It doesn't have any articles, thank god (!), but there are other ways to highlight certain words with pronouns or by changing word order. But thankfully it is not as confusing as articles in other languages :).
I'm glad you brought up the topic! My native language is Swedish, it has articles, both definite and indefinite. However, the indefinite article is the same as the number one.
ett, två, tre... (one, two, three)
ett äpple (an apple)
The definite article can sometimes be in front of the noun, sometimes tacked on at the end of the noun, and sometimes both at the same time.
det äpplet (that/the apple)
det röda äpplet (the red apple)
det äpple som jag såg igår (the apple I saw yesterday)
Both indefinite and definite article change depending on the gender of the noun. Note that Swedish has two genders, but they are both the neutral gender, no feminine/masculine gender.
ett äpple (an apple)
en frukt (a fruit)
(det) äpplet (the apple)
(den) frukten (the fruit)

From what I understand, English indefinite article (an) also used to mean "one" in English, or was derived from the word that did.
Wonder if it's the same in other languages.


2 years ago


2 years ago

Ubykh has a definite determiner (ɐ-) that prefixes to nouns and sometimes causes stress-retraction, which is lexically specified: ʨʷɨ "ox", ɐ́ʨʷ "the ox", but ʧɨ "horse", ɐʧɨ́ "the horse". The Ubykh definite determiner falls morphologically into the same class as the demonstrative determiners: jɨ́ʨʷ "this ox", wɜ́ʨʷ "that ox". There's no distinct indefinite article, and uses the numeral "one" for this, which does not cause stress-retraction: zɜʨʷɨ́ "an ox, one ox". For indefinite specific reference, though, the adjective gʷɜrɜ "certain, particular" may be suffixed as well: zɜʨʷɨgʷɜrɜ "a [specific] ox".

I heard in a lecture once that the Himalayan language Belhare has two forms of the definite article, -na and -ma. These are suffixed to nouns - or to the adjective modifying a noun - and even more weirdly, which form the article takes depends on whether the adjective is a basic colour term or not: phabeleŋ-ma khim "the red house", eiʔ-na khim "the big house".
As mentioned before, Russian has no articles. Neither does Ukrainian, for that matter.
Here's an interesting thing.
In English, even when the word is used without an article, you would often use a pronoun instead. As in "she raised her arm" or "he turned his head." It is if the English language logic required at least something in front of the word when none of the articles make sense. (Saying "he turned a head" or "he turned the head" would not be the same, now, would it?)
In Russian, there is a possessive pronoun svoj (свой) which could be used in this case (it refers not to the subject, but to the object). Or, in some cases, regular pronouns could be used. Note how I said "could" - in most cases, they could be used, but really shouldn't. In fact, over-using pronouns in this way is considered a very bad style. It is done sometimes, recently, mostly by inept translators of by the people who read too many badly translated novels or watch too many badly translated movies. People who do that are often ridiculed by appealing to their common sense: "She raised HER arm? Well, of course it was HER arm, whose arm would she be raising? Why do you feel like you need to mention it?"
My point? I guess am just wondering if the other languages that use articles also make similar use of pronouns, and whether there is a system there.


April 15 2014, 10:08:43 UTC 2 years ago Edited:  April 15 2014, 10:20:44 UTC

3 gendered articles(fem, neut, masc) and they are declined depending on the case you use (4 cases in german). The south Germans like to use the article before peoples names too, but the north won't do that. they are independent words before a noun. in case of place or time they can be agglutinated (merged) with the preposition. the indefinte article are just 2 fem and masc/neu.

im Haus
im=in dem (in the house)

ins Becken =in das Becken (into the sink)

am Teich = an dem Teich (at the pond) (ie a road name)

and not standard but vernacular/dialect in some parts of Germany : inner schuessel = in the bowl
aus(e)m Boot =aus dem Boot (out or from the boat)