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(10) Nouns: Definiteness in Detail.

(Types of Determiners and their Distribution within Particular Types of Nouns).

(10.1) Definiteness as a Grammatical Category

- a semantically-grammatical category

- manifested in articles and in some pronouns: demonstrative, possessive, indefinite

- distribution: precedes its head noun, precedes the pre-modifier if any is present

- function: determiner => not a constitutional sentence member

(a) the definite article the

- the same form for SG/PL

- pronounced as [ð∂] before consonants, as [ði] before vowels

(b) the indefinite article a

- used only for SG (SG a > PL null article/some)

- spelled a/pronounced [∂] before consonants, spelled an/pronounced [∂n] before vowels

(c) the null article

(10.2) Types of Reference

(10.2.1) Generic Reference > Typically the Null Article

- the neutralisation of the SG/PL contrast: children learn from their parents = the child learns from his parents = a child learns from his parents

- the neutralisation sometimes impossible: lions are numerous in these parts = the lion is numerous in these parts ≠ *a lion is numerous in these parts

- converted ADJ > the + PL (+ PL verb): the poor, the rich, the idle must be made to work

- uncountable N, both abstract and concrete > the null article (+ SG verb): modesty is rare these days; blood is thicker than water

(10.2.2) Specific Definite Reference > Typically the Definite Article the

(1) consituational reference

- refers to the specific object visible both to the speaker and the addressee (often the only visible object of its kind => specific)

- both countable and uncountable N and PL > the: mind the step; will you pass me the sugar, please

- visible objects > the/demonstrative PRO: pass me that bucket/that water/those buckets

- invisible objects > only the: beware of the dog!

- consituation = knowledge or experience shared by the speaker and the addressee

(a) members of the same household: have you looked in the letter-box? where are the sugar tongs? etc.

(b) population of the same city: the Townhall, the church, the cemetery, etc.

(c) inhabitants of the same country: the President, the Prime Minister, the Queen, etc.

(d) also: the sun, the moon, the stars, etc.

(e) + consituation specific for the speaker and the addressee: I can't find my cigarette-lighter – five minutes later: have you found the/that cigarette-lighter? etc.

(2) anaphoric reference

- refers to the specific object already mentioned: I discussed an interesting project with Bill last night, I think the project should be discussed at our meeting; etc.

- also applies to the synonym, paraphrase, etc.: she was wearing a ring with a diamond in it, everybody admired the precious stone; etc.

- also applies to the word from another category but of similar meaning: we had to travel overnight, the journey was very tiring (the relationship travel <> journey); etc.

- associational reference: I have been to a wedding – the bridegroom, the bridesmaids, the cake, etc.

(3) reference based on modification

(a) restrictive relative clause

- refers to the object mentioned for the first time > then referred to with the anaphoric the: Paul left with a girl, the girl had come with George > Paul left with the girl who had come with George; etc.

- one object only > the: who is the girl Paul is talking to?; etc.

- more objects of the kind > a: we took a train that stops at every station; etc.

- prevailing aspect of the object mentioned for the first time + qualifying relative clause > a: she carried a bag that was too large for her; etc.

- qualifying relative clause: he greeted me with a warmth that was surprising x identifying relative clause: he greeted me with the warmth that I was accustomed to; etc.

(b) post-nominal of-phrase

- refers to a specific object, the only of its kind, post-modified by the of-phrase: the walls of the old town, the roof of the house, the sound of a whistle, etc.

- of-phrase < genitive attribute: the literature of the Middle Ages < medieval literature; the lakes of Finland < Finnish lakes; etc.

- more objects of the kind > a: the title-page of the book x a page of the book was torn; etc.

(c) attributive content clause

- refers to the object specified in the attributive content clause: the idea that..., the fact that..., the time when...; etc.

- prevailing aspect of the object mentioned for the first time + qualifying attributive clause > a: he remembers the time when there were few cars on the roads x her father died at a time when she was too young to fully feel his loss; etc.

(d) apposition

- the number seven, the name Elizabeth, the poet Robert Burns, etc.

(e) unique modification

- the right time, the very thing, the only exception, etc.

(4) inclusive reference

- countable N in SG > the refers to a single object included in a group of objects of the same kind: the Prime Minister [of a particular country], the steering-wheel [of a particular car], the city centre [of a particular city]; etc.

- countable N in PL > the/all/all the refers to all the objects present: shut the windows = shut all the windows; etc.

- countable N referring to but two objects > both the/both

- uncountable N > the refers to the whole amount of the material etc. present: I must ask you to remove the sand from my gateway; etc.

( Some Abstract/Concrete Nouns > Null Article

- some abstract/concrete nouns, esp. in PL > the null article instead of the definite article

- some abstracts > 0: opinions on this point are divided; etc.

- some concrete N > 0: heads turned as he entered the room; etc.

- nominalised predicates > 0: on closer examination, after marriage, on arrival; etc.

(10.2.3) Specific Indefinite Reference > Typically the Indefinite Article a(n)

- refers to an unknown object mentioned for the 1st time: he is growing a beard; will you have ham or sausages? etc.

- refers to any of a group of potential objects: take an apple! [any of the apples present]; have some ham! etc.

- an ambiguous reference: my sister would like to meet a Norwegian > definite reference: ...he comes here on business every now and then x indefinite reference: ...she wants to try whether she can make herself understood; etc.

(10.3) Proper Nouns

(10.3.1) Personal Names

(a) null article

- given names and surnames: James; Wilson; Henry Hudson

- names with an emotional attribute: little Jim; poor Dick; dear old Harry; young/old Brown

- names with a preceding title: President Kennedy; King Charles; Prince Andrew; Duke William; Lord Snowdon; Lady Windermere; Sir Francis; General Bradley

(b) definite article

- families: the Parkers

- two different people of the same name: the Mr Brown next door, not the Mr Brown from the top floor

- epithets: the clever Elizabeth won; the Beautiful Helen; the disappointed John; this comedy is typical of the young Shakespeare

- names with an adjectival title: the Honourable…; (the) Reverend William Jones

- title + of + geographical name: the Duke of Edinburgh; the duchess of Windsor; the Archbishop of Canterbury; the President of the Unites States

(c) indefinite article

- the meaning of some: a Mr Hawkins; a Dr Watson

- a woman before her marriage: she was a Brown before her marriage

- a family member with typical behaviour: he is a (real) Brown

- a person with behaviour typical of another person: he is a (regular) Einstein; he is not a Shakespeare [= he is no Shakespeare]

- metonymy (the name of an artist for his work): a Turner x but: both the Turners in this gallery (x but: the name of a musician for his work > null article > play Beethoven)

- a trade mark for the product: buy a Ford x but: the Ford he bought last year

(10.3.2) Geographical Names

Continents, States, Countries, Cities, Towns

(a) Null Article

- one-word names: Asia, Belgium, Brittany, York, Ashwell

- two-word names with a preceding adjectival proper name: South America, North Africa, Western Australia, Ancient Greece/Rome, Soviet Russia x but: eastern Europe

- names with an emotional attribute: Merry Old England

(b) Definite Article

- some one-word names: the Ukraine, the Tyrol, the Ruhr, the Riviera, the Bronx, the Netherlands, the Hague, the Vatican

- some two-word names with a following attributive common name: the Czech Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States

- two different entities of the same name (a restrictive attribute): the England of the Middle Ages, the Prague of May 1945, the real America; the New York of the films, not the real New York

Seas, Rivers, Straits, Canals/Channels, Gulfs

(a) Null Article: –

(b) Definite Article: the Pacific (Ocean), the Mediterranean (Sea), the Missouri (River) [= AmE] x the (River) Clyde [= BrE], the Bosporus, the Firth of Forth, the Panama Canal, the English Channel, the Persian Gulf

Ranges of Mountains, Peninsulas, Deserts, Passes, Groups of Islands

(a) Null Article: –

(b) Definite Article: the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, the Iberian peninsula, the Crimea, the Sahara, the Mohave Desert, the Cumberland Pass, the Bermudas, the Orkney Islands

Peaks, Isles, Lakes, Capes, Waterfalls, Valleys, Caves

(a) Null Article: Mount Everest, Ben Nevis, Sicily, Wight, Christmas Island, Lake Superior, Great Bear Lake, Loch Ness, Cape Horn, Niagara Falls, Death Valley, Mammoth Cave

(b) Definite Article:

- some foreign names (NOT beginning with Mont): the Matterhorn, the Jungfrau

- capes with the of-phrase in the name: the Cape of Good Hope

Streets, Squares, City Quarters, Parks

(a) Null Article: Oxford Street, Long Street (x but: frequently the High Street), Madison Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Park Lane, Washington Square, Bloomsbury Square, Red Square, Piccadilly Circus, Greenwich Village, Hyde Park, Green Park, Regent's Park

(b) Definite Article:

- names of foreign streets: the Champs Elysées, the Unter den Linden

- frequently foreign street names with a preceding common name: the Street of 28th October, the Rue de Rivoli, the Boulevard des Capucines, the Via Garibaldi, the Place Pigalle, the Square de Verdun

- domestic street names of a descriptive common name origin: the Strand, the Mall, the Haymarket

- street and square names with a common name origin: the Little Square, the Bull Ring (x but: Red Square)

- foreign park names: the Stromovka Park, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Tuilleries, the Tiergarten

Theatres, Cinemas, Concert Halls, Museums, Galleries, Libraries, Clubs, Hotels, Restaurants/Pubs

(a) Null Article:

- names with the possessive case: Mario's Diner

- further exceptions: Covent Garden (Opera), Carnegie Hall

(b) Definite Article: the Mermaid (Theatre), the Royal Court Theatre, the Bolshoi Theatre, the British Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Royal Festival Hall, the Albert Hall, the Alpha / Odeon / Ambassador (cinemas), the Phi Beta Kappa (club), the Huntingdon (library), the Ritz, the King George (pub)

Historical/Other Buildings, Stations, Airports, Bridges

(a) Null Article:

- names with the proper name preceding the common name: Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, Scotland Yard, Westminster Hall, India House, No. 10 Downing Street, Victoria Station, Euston Station, Kennedy Airport, Westminster BridgeTower Bridge

(b) Definite Article:

- bridges and towers named after a person: the Charles Bridge, the Eiffel Tower

- two-word names with a common name origin: the Royal Exchange, the Crystal Palace, the Mansion House, the White House, the Empire State Building, the Marble Arch Station


(a) Null Article: London University, Charles University, Yale University, Eton College, Radcliffe College, King's College, Palacký University

(b) Definite Article:

- names with the construction of + place name: the University of London, the University of Olomouc (NOT: *the University of Palacký <= P. is not a place name)


(a) Null Article: HMS [= Her/His Majesty's Ship] Intrepid

(b) Definite Article: the Titanic, the Discovery, the Queen Elizabeth


(a) Null Article:

- some names when isolated (definite article when in context): Financial Times, Evening News, Country Life, Newsweek, Time, Punch, Saturday Review, Forum, New Society, New Scientist, British Book News, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Washington, D.C. Post, Spectator, Radio Times, Private Eye

(b) Definite Article: The Daily Telegraph, The Sun, The Times, The Economist, The Guardian, The Observer, The Illustrated London News


(a) Null Article: IBM, NATO

(b) Definite Article: the EU


(a) Null Article: Mercury, etc.

(b) Definite Article: exceptions > the Sun, the Moon


(a) Null Article

(b) Definite Article: –


Dušková, Libuše, et al. Mluvnice současné angličtiny na pozadí češtiny. Praha: Academia, 2003.

Peprník, Jaroslav. Angličtina pro pokročilé 2. Olomouc: Fin, 1995.

Svoboda, Aleš, and Mária Opělová Károlyová. A Brief Survey of the English Morphology. Ostrava: Ostravská univerzita, 1993.

Other Sources

Veselovská, Ludmila. Přednášky a semináře: Morfologie 2. ZS 2003/04.


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