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In linguistics , definiteness is a semantic feature of noun phrases (NPs), distinguishing between referents/entities that are 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 and some languages do not express it at all. For example, in English definiteness is usually marked by the selection of determiner . Certain determiners, such as a/an, many, any, either , and some typically mark an NP as indefinite. Others, including the, this, every , and both mark the NP as definite. In some other languages, the marker is a clitic that attaches phonologically to the noun (and often to modifying adjectives ): the Hebrew definite article ha- or the Arabic definite article al- .
In yet other languages, definiteness is indicated by affixes on the noun or on modifying adjectives, much like the expression of grammatical number and grammatical case . In those languages, the inflections indicating definiteness may be quite complex. In the Germanic languages and Balto-Slavic languages , for example (as still in modern German and Lithuanian ), there are two paradigms for adjectives , one used in definite noun phrases and the other used in indefinite noun phrases. In some languages, such as Hungarian , definiteness is marked on the verb.ContentsUse in different languages[ edit ]
Examples are:Phrasal clitic: as in Basque : Cf. emakume ("woman"), emakume-a (woman-ART: "the woman"), emakume ederr-a (woman beautiful-ART: "the beautiful woman"); Romanian : om ("man"), om-ul (man-ART: "the man"), om-ul bun (man-ART good: "the good man") or bun-ul om (good-ART man: "the good man")Noun affix: as in Albanian : djalë ("boy"); djal-i (djal-ART: "the boy"); djal-i i madh (djal-ART i madh: "the elder son"); vajzë ("girl"); vajz-a (vajz-ART: "the girl"); vajz-a e bukur (vajz-ART e bukur: "the pretty girl")Prefix on both noun and adjective: Arabic الكتاب الكبير (al-kitāb al-kabīr) with two instances of al- (DEF-book-DEF-big, literally, "the book the big")Distinct verbal forms: as in Hungarian : olvasokegykönyvet (read-1sg.pres.INDEF a book-ACC.sg: "I read a book") versus olvasomakönyvet (read-1sg.pres.DEF the book-ACC.sg: "I read the book") Germanic
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 modern 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 marking of case in certain syntactic contexts. In many languages, the direct object (DOs) receives distinctive marking only if they are definite. For example, in Turkish , the DO in the sentence adamları gördüm (meaning "I saw the men") is marked with the suffix -ı (indicating definiteness). The absence of the suffix means that the DO is indefinite ("I saw men").
In Serbo-Croatian , in the Baltic languages Latvian and Lithuanian , and, to a lesser extent in Slovene , definiteness can be expressed morphologically on prenominal adjectives. The short form of the adjective is interpreted as indefinite, while the long form is definite and/or specific:short (indefinite): Serbo-Croatian nov grad "a new city"; Lithuanian balta knyga "a white book"long (definite): novi grad "the new city, a certain new city"; baltoji knyga "the white book, a certain white book"
In some languages, the definiteness of the object affects the transitivity of the verb . In the absence of peculiar specificity marking, it also tends to affect the telicity of mono-occasional predications .Morphological marking of definiteness[ edit ]
In some languages definiteness can be seen a morphological category of nouns. For example, in some Scandinavian languages, such as Swedish, definite nouns inflect with a dedicated set of suffixes. This is known in Swedish as the grammatical category of Species .