Definiteness

This article discusses distinguishing between referents or senses that are identifiable in a given context and those that are not. Let's begin!

Talking about Definiteness in English

What Is Definiteness?

Definiteness is a feature of noun phrases that refers to whether a noun refers to a specific or identifiable entity or not.

Uniqueness and Commonness

There are two groups of nouns based on whether they refer to unique or common entities:

Proper Nouns

Proper nouns are names of specific or unique people, places, and things. All proper nouns are definite and they don’t need indefinite articles.

Sam is talking to his friend.

They are planning to go to Paris.

Some proper nouns take the definite article 'the' before them. The article is part of the proper noun and removing it does not make the sentence incorrect. For example:

'The United States of America' or 'United States of America'

But substituting “the” with the indefinite article 'a/an' can be wrong at times. for example:

The Niles (Not a Niles)

Common Nouns

Common nouns are names of places, people, and things that do not refer to a specific thing.

She is hiding under the table.

Her father is a teacher.

Using "the" to indicate definiteness

Definiteness and Indefiniteness

Some words can modify common nouns and make them definite or indefinite, or categorize them as a specific type. These words can be categorized as:

  1. Definitie markers
  2. Indefinitie markers
  3. Type markers

Definitie Markers

There are definite determiners that change common nouns (general concepts) into specific concepts. These determiners include:

  1. the definite article: the

The sun sets in the west.

I’m going to the bank.

He’s already lost the phone he bought last week.

His parents had high expectations.

This is my uncle.

Mia broke her leg playing football

This book is amazing.

All the time I was in that country I hated it.

Get that cat off the piano.

Indefinitie Markers

There are indefinite determiners that change nouns into indefinite nouns. These determiners include:

An apple a day, keeps the doctor away.

I’m looking forward to being a grandmother.

A friend of mine has just invited me to Italy.

  • Quantitative: all (of), a number of, enough (of), ….

A number of workers protested to the lack of job security.

I’ve just bought some books on computing.

Is there any water in the fridge?

Have a slice of bread.

There were two or three drops of blood on the carpet.

Put any items of clothing you no longer need into this box.

Type markers

A particular group of people or things are called 'types'. Types include:

Next term we're going to study the metals in detail.

Schools should concentrate more on the child and less on exams.

The economy is in a horrible state.

Life is hard.

Elephants can swim very well.

Stars vary greatly in size.

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