In grammatical theory, definiteness is a feature of noun phrases, distinguishing between entities that are specific and 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:
- Some languages, e.g. English, use separate words called articles (e.g. the indefinite article a/an and the definite article the).
- In other languages, the article is a clitic that attaches phonologically to the noun (and often to modifying adjectives), e.g. 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 these 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 entirely different paradigms for adjectives, one used in definite noun phrases and the other used in indefinite noun phrases.
- In some languages, e.g. Hungarian, definiteness is marked on the verb.
Famous quotes containing the word definite:
“Literature does not exist in a vacuum. Writers as such have a definite social function exactly proportional to their ability as writers. This is their main use.”
—Ezra Pound (18851972)
“Our tradition of political thought had its definite beginning in the teachings of Plato and Aristotle. I believe it came to a no less definite end in the theories of Karl Marx.”
—Hannah Arendt (19061975)
“My talents fall within definite limitations. I am not as versatile an actress as some think.”
—Greta Garbo (19051990)