Definiteness

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Description:
In grammatical theory, definiteness is a feature of noun phrases, distinguishing between entities which are specific and identifiable in a given context (definite noun phrases) and entities which are not (indefinite noun phrases).

There is considerable variation in the expression of definiteness across languages: some languages use a definite article (which can be a free form, a phrasal clitic, or an affix on the noun) to mark a definite noun phrase. Examples are:

  • Phrasal clitic: as in Basque: Cf. ("woman"), (woman-ART: "the woman"), (woman beautiful-ART: "the beautiful woman")
  • Noun affix: as in Romanian: ("man"), (man-ART: "the man"); (man-ART good: "the good man")
  • Prefix on both noun and adjective: Arabic (al-kitāb al-kabīr) with two instances of al- (DEF-book-DEF-big, literally, "the book the big")
  • Distinct verbal forms: as in Hungarian: (read-1sg.pres.INDEF a book-ACC.sg: "I read a book") versus (read-1sg.pres.DEF the book-ACC.sg: "I read the book")


Germanic, Romance, Celtic, Semitic, and auxiliary languages generally have a definite article, sometimes used as a postposition. Many other languages do not. Some examples are Chinese, Japanese, Finnish, and the Slavic languages except Bulgarian and Macedonian. When necessary, languages of this kind may indicate definiteness by other means such as Demonstratives.

It is common for definiteness to interact with the...
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