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Grammatical article

An article is a word that is put next to a noun to indicate the type of reference being made to the noun.

Articles can have various functions:

  • a definite article (English the) indicates that the noun refers to a specific thing that the speaker has in mind (The chair is broken)
  • an indefinite article (English a or some) indicates that the noun refers to something of the kind, but the particular instance isn't important (Block the door with a chair).
  • a partitive article indicates an indefinite quantity of a mass noun; there is no partitive article in English, though the word some often has that function. An example is French du/de la, as in Voulez-vous du café ? ("Do you want some coffee?")

Some languages such as Chinese, classical Latin, and Toki Pona rarely use articles, indicating such distinctions in other ways or not at all. Some languages, including Japanese and Russian do not have them at all. Other languages, including Welsh, have a definite but not an indefinite article.

Many European languages that have grammatical gender usually have their article agree with the gender of the noun (le masculine, la feminine). The articles in these languages not only distinguish between the sexes, but can indicate different meanings depending on the article used, as in Spanish, where el cólera is "anger" and la cólera is "cholera", or German, where die Steuer is "the tax" and das Steuer is "the steering-wheel", or Swedish, where en plan is "a plan" and ett plan is "a plane".

Use of article may vary between languages. For example, French uses its definite article in cases where English uses no article, such as in general statements about a mass noun Le maïs est un grain, "Maize is a grain").

By the same token, the words used as English articles have other grammatical functions. See A, an, The.

In Scandinavian languages the definite article is a suffix; examples planen is "the plan", and planet is "the plane". Romanian also uses suffixes for articles; example consulul is "the consul".

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