Determiners are a closed class of words that provide information such as familiarity, location, quantity, and number about a noun or noun phrase. Determiners differ in form and function from adjectives, which describe attributes of nouns and noun phrases. Articles are a type of determiner that specify the grammatical definiteness of a noun or noun phrase. The four forms of articles in English grammar are:
- Definite article
- Indefinite articles
- Negative article
- Zero article
Articles perform the grammatical function of determinative.
The first form of the article in English grammar is the definite article. The English definite article is the. The definite article expresses definiteness, or that the noun or noun phrase is uniquely specified or known. Both singular and plural nouns may take the definite article. For example:
- The cabinet in the workroom needs cleaned.
- The telephone by my computer broke yesterday.
- The EOS brand is my favorite lip balm.
- The Great Pumpkin has never visited Linus in the pumpkin patch.
- The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.
The second form of the article in English grammar is the indefinite article. The English indefinite articles are a and an. The indefinite articles express indefiniteness, or that the noun or noun phrase is general or unknown. Use a before words that begin with a consonant sound (cat, dog, European, university) and an before words that begin with a vowel sound (apple, egg, hour, honor). Only singular nouns may take an indefinite article. For example:
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
- A helicopter crashed into a truck transporting an elephant and an ape to a zoo.
- A cabinet in a workroom needs cleaned.
- A telephone on the desk rang off the hook while you were out.
- I need a stapler, a pencil, a paperclip, and a file folder.
The third form of the article in English grammar is the negative article. The English negative article is no, which is also sometimes considered a quantifier. The negative article expresses the lack of the noun or noun phrase, which is the reason that some grammars consider no a quantifier rather than an article. Both singular and plural nouns may take the negative article. For example:
- No man can tame her.
- I am hoping for no new cavities.
- No children stopped by our house on Halloween.
- We need no more donations.
- No pets are allowed in the auditorium.
The fourth form of the article in English grammar is the zero article. The zero article (Ø) indicates the absence of an article. The zero article expresses the indefiniteness of the noun or noun phrases. Only plural and noncount, or mass, nouns take the zero article. For example:
- Ø Lions eat Ø meat.
- Ø Coffee is my morning beverage of choice.
- Ø Books must be returned in the book drop.
- Ø Mushrooms make me sick.
- Ø Boys like Ø girls.
Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of a noun or noun phrase. The four forms of articles in English grammar are definite, indefinite, negative, and zero articles.
Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.