§ 2.With countable nouns,both concrete and abstract, the in-
definite article is used when we wish to name an object (a thing, a
person, an animal or an abstract notion), to state what kind of ob-
ject is meant.
e.g. He gave her acigarette and lighted it.
There came a tapat the door, and a small elderly manen-
tered the room, wearing a blackcap.
This function may be called the nominating function.
But at the same time, owing to its origin from the numeral
one, the indefinite article always implies the idea of oneness and is
used only before nouns in the singular.
The idea of oneness may sometimes become quite prominent. It
occurs in the following cases:
a) a hundred, a thousand, a minute, a mile, etc.
b) after the negative not — not a word, not a trace, not a
c) in some set phrases — one at a time, at a draught (as in:
He emptied his glass at a draught), a stitch in time saves nine,
§ 3. When the speaker uses the indefinite article, he just
names an object which is usually new to the hearer. So the indefi-
nite article is often used to introduce a new element in the sen-
tence. Since the new element is, as a rule, important and attracts
attention, the noun with the indefinite article frequently becomes
the centre of communication and is marked by strong stress.
e.g. I think he is a stupid fellow.
Presently the Browns arrived. They brought with them a
small child, a governess and a dog.
The table was covered with a white cloth.
In contrast to this, the definite article usually indicates that a
definite object is meant and that it is not new to the hearer. That
is why it often serves to show that the noun is not the centre of
communication. Compare the following sentences:
e.g. I bought a book yesterday.
I bought the book yesterday.
From the first sentence the hearer learns what object was
bought yesterday. So a book is the new element in the sentence.
From the second sentence the hearer learns when the book was
bought (he already knows that the speaker bought a book). In this
case the book is not the centre of communication.
In the Russian language which has no article, the centre of
communication is usually marked by word-order and also stress.
|A boy rushed into the room. The boy rushed into the room. They were sent to a conference in May. They were sent to the conference in May.|
В комнату вбежал мальчик.
Мальчик вбежал в комнату.
Их послали в мае на конфе
Их послали на конференцию
This distinction between the two articles is very helpful in
most cases but the rule does not always hold good. We may find
sentences in which a noun with an indefinite article does not serve
as the centre of communication and is not marked by strong stress
, (a) and, vice versa, a noun with the definite article marked by
strong stress may become the most important element of communi-
e.g. a) A camel can carry heavy loads,
b) "Shut the door," he ordered.
It follows from the above examples that the use of the indefi-
nite article with nouns serving as the centre of communication is
i to be regarded as an additional rule.
§ 4. With uncountable nouns, the indefinite article serves to
bring out a special aspect of the notion expressed by the noun. In
this case its function may be called aspective.
e.g. A dull burning anger rose in his chest.
He had almost a supernatural courage.
In this case the noun is usually qualified by an attribute which
also brings out a special aspect. In its aspective function the indef-
inite article is devoid of the idea of oneness.
The Definite Article
§ 5. When used with countable nouns, either concrete or ab-
stract, the definite article has two distinct functions:
1) It may be used with singular and plural nouns to show that
the noun denotes a particular object (a thing, a person, an animal
or an abstract notion) or a group of objects as distinct from the
others of the same kind. In other words, the definite article serves
to single out an object or several objects from all the other objects
of the same class. This function is called the individualizing func-
tion of the definite article.
e.g. The car stopped. Paul got out and stretched himself.
As we stood on the steps, we felt the smell of fallen leaves
coming from the garden.
Margot took up the telephone.
2) The definite article may also have the generic functionwith
countable nouns. With nouns in the singular it serves to indicate
that the noun becomes a composite image of the class.
e.g. The tigerhas always had the reputation of being a man-eater.
The linguistis interested in the form and meaning of all pos-
sible statements in a language.
§6. With uncountable nouns,the function of the definite arti-
cle may be called restricting.
The definite article restricts the material denoted by a concrete
uncountable noun to a definite quantity, portion or to a definite
locality (a); it also restricts the abstract notion expressed by an
uncountable noun to a particular instance (b).
e.g. a) He slowly pulled on his gloves, concentrating on each fold
in the leather.
As we came out into the cold damp air,she shivered,
b) The workseemed to consist chiefly of interviewing young
women for jobs in department stores.
I did not wish to betray the anxiety I felt.
Absence of the Article
(the Zero Article)
§ 7.The absence of the article (the zero article) has only one
function with common nouns — the nominating function.
This function of the zero article may be found with countable
nouns in the plural;it is parallel to the use of the indefinite arti-
cle with singular countable nouns. But while the indefinite article
is associated with the idea of oneness, the zero article always im-
e.g. Marion came round the corner of the house, wearing garden-
inggloves and a very old skirt.
My mother gave me some pennies to buy applesor a magazine.
She had a splitting headache and took an aspirinand sleep-
The nominating function of the zero article is also found with
uncountable nouns, both abstract and concrete(names of materials).
e.g. Last night I felt friendshipand sympathyfor Henry, but to-
day he has become an enemy.
Lifegoes on, changeless and ever changing.
Winterbourne asked for waterand drank thirstily.
THE USE OF ARTICLES WITH COUNTABLE NOUNS