The Definite Article with Class Nouns in English and in French
The Definite Article with Class Nouns in English and in French
1. General Overview of the Category of Article in English and
1.1 Article. General notion
An article is a word that combines with a noun to indicate the
type of reference being made by the noun and to specify the volume or numerical
scope of that reference. Article can be also thought of as a special kind of
adjective, because it combines with a noun and contributes to the meaning of
the noun-phrase. Many linguists place the article in the category of
determiners. M. Ia. Blokh in his book “Theoretical Grammar of the English
Language” says “The article is a determining unit of specific nature accompanying
the noun in communicative collocation.” The linguists L. A. Barmina and I. P.
Verkhovskaya have the same idea about the article as a determiner. They
attribute it to a syntactic class of words called determiners which modify a
noun. The dictionary of Thesaurus gives the definition of the word “article” as
a determiner that may indicate the specificity of reference of a noun phrase.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary refers to the article as used as
adjectives. Also in this context we would like to add the words of the linguist
B. Ilyish who devoted a whole chapter of his book “Stroi sovremennogo
angliyskogo eazika” to the study of the article. He remarks that the article is
usually a separate unit which may be divided from its noun by other words,
So, we may conclude that the first feature of the article can be
that the article is a determiner of the noun that refers to, that is why it can
have some functions of an adjective and it is used as a separate unit.
Another feature of the article is that articles, definite or
indefinite, are traditionally considered to form a separate part of speech. V.
L. Kaushanskaya in her book “The Grammar of the English Language” specifies the
article as a structural part of speech. In E. M. Gordon’s book “A Grammar of
Present-Day English” we also meet the notion of a structural word as the
linguist gives the following definition of the article: “The article is a
structural word specifying the noun”.
According to these two definitions we can define the second
feature of the article – it is a structural word.
Judging upon the definitions given by the different linguists and
the dictionaries listed above we can draw a conclusion and deduce a general
definition for the article that would include all its features: An article is a
structural part of speech, which is combined with a noun to determine it.
1.2 Articles in English
There are two articles in Modern English which are called the
indefinite and the definite article. The absence of the article, which may be
called the zero article, also specifies the noun and has significance.
The indefinite article has the forms a and an. The form a is used
before words beginning with a consonant sound (a book, a table, a door). The
form an is used before words beginning with a vowel sound (an apple, an hour,
an aim). The article is pronounced [ə], [ən]; when stressed it is
pronounced [eı], [æn].
1.2.1 The Definite Article in English
The definite article has one graphic form the, which is pronounced
in two ways: [∂ı:] before a vowel sound [∂ı: ΄æpl]
and [∂ə] before a consonant sound [∂ə ΄pen]. This
article is used before nouns in the plural, as well as before nouns in the
1.2.2 The History of the Definite Article in English
Examining the definite article by M.A. Gashina’s book “English
Grammar Higher School” we find some words about its history. The linguist says
that the definite article the is a weakened form of the Old English
demonstrative pronoun se (nominative se; dative ΄þæm;
accusative ΄þone, etc.) which in Old English, besides the function
of a demonstrative, had also the function of the definite article. The form
“se” was in the masculine gender, “seo”- feminine, and “þæt”-
source gives the information that in Middle English all these kinds of the
demonstrative pronoun had merged into þe, the ancestor of the Modern
English word the. It says that in Middle English the (þe) was frequently
abbreviated as a þ with a small e above it, similar to the abbreviation
for that, which was a þ with a small t above it. During the latter Middle
English and Early Modern English periods, the letter Thorn (þ) in its
common script, or cursive form came to resemble a ó shape. As such the use of a
ó with an e above it as an abbreviation became common. This can still be seen
in reprints of the 1611 edition of the King James “Version of the Bible” in
places such as Romans 15:29 or in the Mayflower Compact. The article was never
pronounced with a ó sound, even so written.
One of the linguists who were interested in the history of the
English language - Barbara M. H. Strang, in her book “A History of English”
states that the definite article was by 1170 only marginally related to the
pronoun system. It had two distinct types throughout the period. In most parts
of the country it was indeclinable þe, later the, or at the very most it
varied between singular þe and plural þa. However, in the S and SW
Mid it was declinable, with three genders in the singular and up to four cases.
Where it had declinable forms they were the same as those for the ‘further’-
demonstrative, that, since, in fact, they had originated in a special use of
that form. The forms set out below were in some parts only demonstrative, in
others they had double function; they are presented for reference-purposes, but
they tend to suggest far more differentiation than most speakers knew. In the
masc sg there were four forms: se, subj; þene, þane, acc; þan,
þene, Kt þa(Kentish), later þo, dat (i.e., some speakers
reduced the case-system to three even here). The fem sg usually had three
forms: seo, si (SW and SE) subj; þa, later þo, enclitic to,
oblique; þer, þære, gen. The neuter (like the 3rd person
pronoun) had the same form for subj and direct obj þet or þat
(according to dialect, but a tended to invade e-areas, as a weak form, or by
internal borrowing, or both); the dat was usually þan, the gen þes
or þas . In the plural all the genders had subj-obj þa, later þo,
dat or oblique þan, gen þere.
The linguist emphasizes that after the very beginning of Middle
English period, and outside Kt, case and gender distinctions , in article or
demonstrative, occur only patchily, and then in circumstances showing that
their historical functions have been forgotten. Otherwise, except for some
persistence of plural tho, the definite article has become fully indeclinable
by the end of the period.
As the definite article comes from the demonstrative pronoun of
Old English it had preserved its demonstrative meaning that is still felt in
such expressions as nothing of the (that) kind; at the (that) time; under the
(those) circumstances; for the (that) purpose; The lady (= this lady) is
waiting to see you.
Thus we can draw the conclusion that the definite article takes
its origin from the Old English demonstrative pronoun se which was declinable
in conformity with the gender, number and case of the noun it modified. Later
in the Middle English it changed into þe with nouns in singular and þa
with nouns in plural that became the in the Present-day English. The definite
article retained its demonstrative meaning throughout all the periods of the
English language development and nowadays its first and most important meaning
is one of a demonstrative.
1.3 The Article in French Grammar
The etymology of the word “article” comes from Latin articulus and
it means “small member”.
According to the French linguist Maurice Grevisse article is a
word placed before the noun in order to mark that this noun is taken in its
complete or incomplete determined meaning; it also serves to indicate the
gender and the number of the noun it precedes.
N.B. Grevisse also says in his book “Le bon usage” that the
article can be arranged among the adjectives as it serves to introduce the noun.
Thus, comparing with English we see that in the French grammar the
article is also placed before the noun. It also has the function of a determiner.
But, as distinct from the English article the article in French besides its
determination of the noun semantically has the function of determining it from
the grammatical point of view. It serves to indicate the noun’s gender and
number. Hence it appears the first difference between the articles in English
and in French.
There are two types of articles in French: definite(défini)
Note: it is distinguished often the third type of the article in
French – the partitif article, but this one can be relevant by its forms to the
definite article and by its meaning it can be belonged to the group of the
So, we find out the second difference between the articles of the
two languages. The English and the French Languages have three types of
articles and we saw that the first two types coincide in their names: definite
and indefinite. Speaking about the third type of articles in both languages it
should be noted that in English it is called zero article and in written speech
it is rendered by the absence of the article but in French it is called the
partitif article which has four forms but we will speak about them in greater
length in 1.3.3
1.3.1 The Definite Article in French
Making the parallel between the English and the French grammar we
can observe that in the French language articles agree with nouns they
determine in gender and number.
The French definite articles (l’article défini) are:
le – with nouns in masculine, singular, le garçon;
la – with nouns in feminine, singular, la fille;
l’ – with nouns in masculine and feminine in the singular form
beginning with a vowel or mute h, l’arbre, l’ère,
les – with nouns in masculine and feminine in the plural form, les
220.127.116.11 The History of the French Definite Article
Speaking about the French definite article one should know that it
was a roman innovation. It came from Latin ille(masculine) and illa(feminine)
which served as adjectives and demonstrative pronouns as well. In ancient
France only the proclitic form of them was preserved that lost early their
first syllable and became unstressed.
− Nominative case, masculine, singular
(il)lu(m)>lo was used till the end of the XIth c. and then
deafened in le − Objective case, masculine, singular
illī>li, illos>los soon was replaced by les −
− feminine, singular;
− feminine, plural.
The French definite article retains a long time the demonstrative
and the determinative meanings:
Tresqu’en la mer cunquist la tere altaigne. (Rol.,3)
la mer il conquist la terre hautaine.
He conquered the lordly land till the sea.
This is an example of the French article’s agreement with the noun
in gender, number and case; at the same time the article determines the noun
being used as ancient demonstrative: “la mer” means “this sea”= ‘the sea’.
So, we notice that the development of the French language was
influenced by Latin which already had some notions of gender, number and case.
It should be mentioned that from the previous times the French definite article
had the forms of masculine and feminine. It had differentiations between
singular and plural forms. Apparently the French article had the same meaning
of a demonstrative.
Since English and French are two languages from different
linguistic families they were developed differently. The articles have
different origins. That is why there are many differences in their
Nevertheless, both, the English definite article and the French
definite article, take their origin from the demonstrative pronoun retaining
the demonstrative meaning till nowadays.
18.104.22.168 Article élidé
One of the forms of the definite article in French is used with the
apostrophe (l’) and has its own name article élidé (fused
article). It is used only with nouns that begin with a vowel or mute h in
singular. The definite articles le, la lose their vowels in such cases and take
the apostrophe – l’, e.g. l’arbre, l’ère, l’homme, l’habitude.
22.214.171.124 The Fused Definite Article
The second type of the French definite article is named article
contracté which can be translated into English as the fused article. It
comes from the usage of the definite articles in masculine, singular le and
plural les with the prepositions à and de. The preposition à has
the meaning of direction and the preposition de has the meaning of possession.
When these prepositions are used before the definite articles they merge with
each other and make new forms, preserving their meanings. The forms of the fused article are:
+ le = au Je donne le livre au professeur. (I give the book to the teacher).
+ les = aux Je donne les livres aux élèves. (I give the books to the pupils).
le = du le livre du professeur (the teacher’s book).
les = des les livres des élèves (the pupils’ books).
We can presume that the first two forms of the fused article can
be translated into English by the form of the Dative case and are rendered by
the preposition to. The forms du, des are translated into English by the Genitive
case and take the form of ´s and having the same meaning of possession as
1.3.2 The Indefinite Article in French
The French indefinite articles (l’article indéfini) are:
un – with nouns in masculine, singular, un garçon;
une – with nouns in feminine, singular, une fille;
des – with nouns in masculine and feminine, plural form, des
1.3.3 The Partial Article (article partitif)
The french partial article has three forms:
with nouns in masculine, singular, du garçon;
la – with nouns in feminine, singular, de la fille ;
des – with nouns in masculine and feminine, in the plural form,
The “partitif” article does not have its exact equivalent in
English. It is used with mass nouns such as water, to indicate only a part or a
non-specific quantity of it. As in the
following example :
Je voudrais du lait et du pain.
English : I would like some milk and some bread.
Voulez-vous du café ?
English: Do you want (some) coffee?
We may assume that the French partial article corresponds to the
English indefinite pronoun “some”.
As we mostly are interested in the definite article we will analyze
and compare only its forms, its origins in both languages. Scrutinizing the
definite articles of the English and the French languages we can find
significant differences in their forms. First of all one should remember that
the English definite article takes its origin from the Old English
demonstrative pronoun se, whereas the French definite article has the Latin
origin and also comes from the demonstrative pronoun (ille). Another difference
is that the English definite article has one graphic form the,and the French
definite article has four forms: le, la, l’, les. One of the most important
differences in the definite article between the two languages is that the
French definite articles agree in gender and number with the noun they belong
to, which is not observed in English. The French definite article besides its
four forms le, la, l’, les has another type of article that also belongs to the
group of the definite article – article contracté which also has four
forms (au, aux, du, des).
2. Contrastive Study of the Definite Article’s Usage in English
Before speaking about the usage of the definite article with class
nouns in English and French languages we would like to present first of all the
functions of the definite article in both languages.
2.1 The Functions of the Definite Article in English
For revealing the functions of the English definite article we
consulted the books of the following linguists as M.Ia. Blokh, E.M. Gordon and Barmina
and Verkhovskaya. After studying Barmina and Verkhovskaya’s theory on the
article we can ascertain some functions of the definite article. According to
the linguists it can have:
the morphologic function
that consists in serving as a formal indicator of the noun: the presence of the
article signals that what follows is a noun.
syntactic function. The
definite article may connect sentences within a text by correlating a noun it
modifies with some word or a group of words in the previous context. In the
example below the definite article has the connecting function.
John has brought a book. The book is interesting.
M. Ia. Blokh mentions that the definite article expresses the
identification or individualization of the referent of the noun: the use of
this article shows that the object denoted is taken in its concrete, individual
quality. E. M. Gordon also mentions the idea of individualization. He
distinguishes the following functions of the definite article.
When used with countable nouns, either concrete or abstract, the
English 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 individualized function of the definite article.
e. g. The car stopped. Paul got out and stretched himself.
2) The definite article may also have the generic function with
With nouns in the singular it serves to indicate that the noun
becomes a composite image of the class.
e.g. The tiger has always had the reputation of being a man-eater.
With uncountable nouns, the function of the definite article can
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) As we came out into the cold damp air, she shivered.
b) The work seemed to consist chiefly on interviewing young women
for jobs in department stores.
We are mostly concerned in the functions of the definite article
with countable nouns. Thus, we learned that the definite article has two
functions with countable nouns: individualized and generic functions. In the
first case it distinguishes one object from the others of the same kind, in the
second it serves to present an object instead of the whole class as compared to
2.2 The functions of the definite article in French
1) Speaking about the French definite article it should be known
that it serves to indicate a specific noun.
vais à la banque. Voici le livre que j'ai lu.
I'm going to the bank. Here is the book I read.
Thus the first function of the French definite article is
2) Besides its demonstrative meaning it has a possessive meaning:
se frotta les yeux avec le revers du pouce, et porta les mains à ses
reins. (R. Merle)
Alex wiped his eyes with the back of his thumb, and put his hands
on his loins.
From this example is clearly seen that the French use the definite
article instead of possessive pronouns in English.
meaning of generalization.
L’homme est plutôt un animal bienveillant quand il n’est ni jaloux ni
inquiet.(A. Maurois) – Man is rather a
well-wishing animal when he is neither jealous nor anxious.
We can observe the difference in using the definite article in
English and French. In French sentence we have the noun used with the definite
article in its generalizing function. The noun in English variant is not used
with the definite article as in this case the noun man has a generic sense and
no article is used.
… Nous ne pouvons vous racheter cela à plus de deux cents francs le mètre .
We can’t buy it more than two hundreds francs per meter.
The definite article used in French sentence is translated by the
term per in English with the meaning of each.
5) It can indicate a usual fact that is repeated regularly.
Comme ça doit vous assommer de vous habiller devant elle, le matin.
Thus you have to assume that you have to dress up before her every
In this example le matin has the meaning of every morning that is
why we translate it in English with the indefinite adjective every.
6) Before cardinal numerals it can designate approximation in the
meaning of “about”. This refers to the cases when the definite article precedes
such nouns as heure (hour), ans, années (years), mois (month), etc.
Elle avais un visage si clair, un peau si tendre ; elle était bien
jolie dans sa robe rose et menue, elle pouvait avoir dans les huit ans.
She had a bright face, a gentle skin, she was beautiful in her
fine pink dress, and she was about eight years.
The definite article used in French is translated by the
preposition about in the meaning of imprecise number.
After analyzing the use of the definite article in French
sentences and studying their translations into English we discover some
differences in the functions and meanings of the definite article in English
and French. The differences appear in cases when the definite article in French
is translated in English by possessive, indefinite adjectives and prepositions
depending on the meaning it conveys:
possessive meaning of the
French definite article;
indication of the usual
in the meaning of imprecise
The only similarity that exists between the functions of the
definite article in both languages is that of a demonstrative that serves for
denoting a single object from the others.
2.3 The Usage of the Definite Article with Class Nouns in English
As it was stated in the paragraph 1.2.1 the definite article is
used before the nouns in singular and plural. The definite article can be used
with different types of nouns: proper nouns and common nouns. We are mostly
interested in the use of the definite article with common nouns namely the use
of the definite article with class nouns. Class nouns are the nouns that denote
persons or things belonging to a class. They are countable and have two
numbers: singular and plural.
For defining the general rules of the definite article’s usage
with class nouns we consulted the books on the English grammar of several
linguists: V. L. Kaushanskaya, E. M. Gordon, Gashina, L. A. Barmina and I. P. Verkhovskaya.
After looking up Kaushanskaya’s, Gashina’s and Vasilevskaya’s books we singled
out the following cases of the usage of the definite article with class nouns.
The definite article can be used with class nouns:
1. When a class-noun denotes an object which is regarded by the
speaker as a definite object distinct from all other objects of a certain
class. The context or the whole situation shows that the speaker has a definite
object in mind and therefore uses the definite article. An object is singled
out in the following cases:
a) when the speaker and the hearer know what particular object is
meant. No special indication is necessary.
How did you like the play?
That means that interlocutors know which play they are talking
about. In this case the is a kind of indicator.
b) when the speaker uses an attribute pointing out a particular
object. Such an attribute might be called a particularizing attribute. A
particularizing attribute is used to single out an object from all the objects
of the class, to point out one particular object or group of objects. A
particularizing attribute can be expressed by an “of”-phrase or an attributive
clause. It is always used in post-position.
e. g.: He knocked at the door of a very neat house.
The letters that I have here have come to me quite by accident.
When a noun is used with an attribute it is clear that one certain
object from the whole group is meant. The definite article precedes the noun
thus helping the reader to figure out that object.
c) when the situation itself makes the object definite.
e. g.: The wedding looked dismal. The bride was too old and the
bridegroom was too young.
From this example we understand that not any bride and bridegroom
are meant, but those from the dismal wedding.
When an object is singled out from all the objects of a given
class the definite article retains its demonstrative meaning, and the English
use the definite article much oftener than the demonstrative pronouns this or
that. This can be explained by the easiness in pronunciation. Analyzing all
these three instances we notice that the is used mostly in the function of a
determinative to distinguish an object from a number of objects similar to it.
2. The definite article is used with class nouns which denote
things considered to be unique, such as the earth, the sun, the moon. Here we
have a special case: the class consists only of one representative, and
therefore the object denoted by the noun is always definite in our mind.
e. g. The earth and the sky were already beginning to be enriched
with the evening (Chesterton).
3. With nouns used in a generic sense.
A singular countable noun with a definite article may represent a
whole class of objects, thus becoming a composite image of that class (but not
a typical representative). A noun in this function is called a generic
singular. A noun used in a generic sense denotes a genus taken as a whole, a
thing taken as a type, a genre.
e. g. The violet is a lovely flower.
The tragedy and the comedy first appeared in Greece.
Note 1. It is also sometimes possible to use the indefinite
article in similar cases.
e. g. A violet is a lovely flower.
This use of the indefinite article is not to be identified,
however, with the generic function of the definite article. The indefinite
article is used here in its nominating function, implying any representative of
the class. Hence the use of the indefinite article is not equivalent to that of
the definite article when the noun is used as a composite image of a whole
class. For that reason the indefinite article is not possible in the following
e. g. Now the horse has been replaced by the tractor.
“In this lecture I am going to speak about the article in
English”, said the professor.
Note 2. When the noun man in a generic sense no article is used.
e. g. Silas felt that his trust in man had been cruelly destroyed.
When the noun woman is used in a generic sense it is used with the
definite article or occasionally without an article.
e. g. He had always been interested in that mysterious being the
Woman is man’s helpmate.
A noun used in a generic sense should not be confused with a noun
used in a general sense.
A noun used in a general sense denotes an object regarded as an
individual representative of a class.
e. g. A detective story helps to while away the time.
(Every or any detective story is meant here).
A noun in a generic sense denotes the whole class.
e. g. Conan Doyle is a master of the detective story.
(The detective story is regarded here as a certain genre).
These are all the cases of the usage of the definite article with
class nouns according to Kaushanskaya. Looking over Gordon’s and Barmina’s books
on grammar of the English language we can notice that they make a more detailed
examination of the usage of the definite article with class nouns used with
attributes. E. M. Gordon mentions that since the choice of articles is
determined by the context or the general situation, we should take into
consideration attributes modifying the noun. He distinguishes two kinds of
attributes: limiting and descriptive.
A l i m i t i n g attribute indicates such a quality or
characteristic of an object (or a group of objects) which makes it distinct
from all other objects of the class.
A d e s c r i p t i v e attribute is used to describe an object
(or a group of objects) or give additional information about it. This kind of
attribute does not single out an object (or a group of objects) but only
narrows the class to which it belongs.
The linguist states that nouns modified by limiting attributes are
used with the definite article and nouns modified by descriptive attributes may
be used with either the indefinite or the definite articles, as the choice of
articles for countable nouns is not affected by this kind of attribute. So, we
can make the conclusion that in the majority of cases when nouns are modified
by a limited attribute it is used with the definite article, but it appears
that it can be used with nouns modified by the descriptive attributes.
We examined all the cases when the definite article is used with
nouns modified by both kinds of attributes and selected only those that refer
to the usage of the definite article with class nouns.
1)The use of the definite article with class nouns modified by
The definite article in such case is accounted for by the
situation but not by the attribute:
e. g. The woman looked at me shrewdly and there was a glint of
humour in the dark eyes.
Adjectives in the superlative degree, however, are always limiting
attributes. That is why nouns modified by the adjectives in the superlative
degree are always used with the definite article:
e.g. She was the smartest girl.
Some adjectives, adjective pronouns and adjectivized ing-forms
always serve as limiting attributes. The definite article is used before the
nouns modified by them. The most important of them are: right and wrong, very,
only, main, principal, central, left and right, same, coming, following,
present, former and latter.
e. g. My mother was the only person whom I told what had happened.
Note 1: Class nouns modified by the adjectives next and last are
generally used with the definite article, especially when they are followed by
an ordinal numeral the definite article is obligatory.
e. g. We shall probably eat at the next table to him.
Note 2: The definite article is used with a singular class noun
modified by other if there are only two objects of the same description.
e. g. He pulled on the other glove and said he would run along to
The definite article is used with a plural class noun modified by
other if there is a definite number of objects divided into two definite
e. g. My mother needed me more than the other members of the
Alongside to these kinds of adjectives proposed by Gordon Barmina
and Verkhovskaya give one more case of the use of the definite article with
class nouns modified by the adjectives that are postposed, i.e. they can follow
the noun they qualify. Postposition is characteristic for such adjectives and
adjectivized participles as absent, present, proper, involved, concerned and
some others that function as limiting attributes.
e. g. The delegates present discussed the agenda of the
2) The use of the definite article with class nouns modified by
If a class noun modified by a cardinal numeral is used with the
definite article, this is accounted for by the situation or context.
e. g. By candlelight the two men seemed of an age if indeed not of
the same family.
Ordinal numerals are usually limiting attributes, so the nouns
they precede are used with definite article.
e.g. “It’s the fourth room down the corridor,” the clerk said.
Note 1: This rule does not apply to the numeral the first. The
combination a first night and a
first prize are to be regarded as set phrases.
Note 2: It is important to remember the use of articles in the
following patterns with nouns
Modified by cardinal and ordinal numerals: the third chapter but
chapter 3 (three), the fifth page but page 5 (five).
3) The use of the definite article with class nouns modified by
The definite article can be used with class nouns modified by
participles but it is usually accounted for by the context or the general
e.g. At the corner of the street there shone the lighted windows
of a club.
4) The use of the definite article with class nouns modified by
ing-forms when they have the limiting meaning.
e.g. He took the path leading to the lonely cottage.
5) The use of the definite article with class nouns modified by
Attributes expressed by infinitives tend to be descriptive and the
nouns modified by them are used with the indefinite article. Yet, sometimes,
depending on the general situation or context, the infinitive may become a
limiting attribute. Thus, the definite article is used.
e.g. “May be he is the man to ask about work,” she thought.
6) The use of the definite article with class nouns modified by
According to Gordon nouns can be modified by two kinds of clauses
– attributive and appositive. As appositive clauses modify only certain
abstract nouns we are not going to discuss them. But as for the attributive clauses
Gordon divides them into non-defining clauses and defining clauses.
Non-defining clauses are those that can be removed from the sentence without
destroying its meaning. They are marked by a pause separating them from the
principal clause. In writing they may be separated by a comma. Non-defining
clauses are always descriptive and in the majority of cases are used with the
Defining clauses are so closely connected with the antecedent that
they cannot be left out without destroying the meaning of the sentence. There
is no pause between this kind of clause and the principal clause, and in
writing they are never marked off by comma. Defining attributes may be limiting
or descriptive, depending on situation or context.
Barmina and Verkhovskaya do not give such a classification for the
clauses. They say that the attributive clauses may be limiting or descriptive.
Anyway, all the linguists come to the conclusion that when the
attributive clauses are limiting, the definite article is used with the
e.g. He took the cigarette that Robert offered him.
7) The use of the definite article with class nouns modified by
nouns in the common case.
Attributes expressed by nouns in the common case are usually
descriptive and the indefinite article is used. The definite article also can
be used but this is accounted for by situation.
e.g. Lanny looked at the dining-room window and smiled.
8) The use of the definite article with class nouns modified by
class nouns in the genitive case.
The meanings of the definite article used with nouns in the
genitive case are the same as with nouns in the common case:
the specifying meaning which
denotes a particular person or thing, as in: my mother’s picture, the river’s
the generic meaning:
I stand in the place of the doctor. The doctor first diagnoses the
patient’s disorder (=the disorder the patient suffers from), then he recommends
a course of treatment.
9) The use of the definite article with class nouns modified by
A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition followed by a
noun (at the window). A prepositional phrase may be used as a) a limiting or b)
a descriptive attribute. Being used as a limiting prepositional phrase it
requires the use of the definite article:
e.g. He always felt ill at ease among the callers at his sister’s
Within this type of attributes special consideration should be
given to the so-called of-phrase which is very common. Kaushanskaya calls
of-phrase attributes as particularizing attributes.
As limiting of-phrase express a great variety of meanings there is
no point in classifying them. The most common types of combinations with the
class nouns are: the house of my neighbor, the wife of a miner, the foot of a
mountain, the collar of a shirt, the shadow of a tree.
If the head-noun denotes an object which is the only bearer of the
property expressed by the of-phrase, the definite article is used: the
president of the club, the glow of a lamp, the murderer of Caesar, the monitor
of the group, etc.
But if there are many objects of the same description, the
indefinite article is used.
Sometimes, however, the definite article is used, alongside of the
indefinite article, even if there is more than one object of the same description.
This occurs when there is a d e f i n i t e number of component parts: the
(a)leg of the table, the (a)wheel of the car, the (an) ear of a dog.
The definite article is
found in the following patterns in which an of-phrase is preceded by one, some,
any, each, many, most, none, all, several, the last, the rest, the majority.
e.g. “One of the letters is from Tom,” she said.
2.3.1 Certain Peculiarities in the Use of the Definite Article
Besides the cases of the usage of the definite article with class
nouns listed above we should remark that there are certain instances of the use
of the definite article which are to be regarded as a matter of tradition. E.
M. Gordon distinguishes two cases:
the definite article used by
reason of locality, e.g. with reference to objects that surround the speaker
(or the people and things described by him). This usually refers to objects
either indoors (e.g. the corner, the window, the table, the door, the
wall,etc.) or out- of-doors (e.g. the stars, the trees, the flowers, the
houses, the leaves, the birds, the bees, etc.)
e.g. As I came up our street, I saw my mother and my brother
from the window.
The trees swayed to and fro under the grey sky.
The definite article is used
with class nouns denoting objects that are normally found in a particular
place. For example, when we speak about the cinema or the theatre we say: “I
couldn’t find my seat and asked the attendant to help me.”
2.4 The Usage of the Definite Article with Class Nouns in French
The French definite article is used much more often than its
Note: When there are two or more nouns listed in a French
sentence, the definite article must be listed in front of each one.
The French for the “class nouns” is les noms concrets - concrete
nouns. Having consulted the book of E. K. Nikolskaia and T. Y. Goldenberg
“Grammaire Française” we learned that the French definite article is
Before concrete nouns when
they designate a material in their broad sense.
Le bronze est un alliage de cuivre et d’étain.
Bronze is an alloy of copper and of tin.
Thus we see a considerable difference between the notion of class
nouns in English and noms concrets in French: the nouns of material also belong
to the group of class nouns in French that is not observed in English. So there
are differences in the usage of the definite article with class nouns in
English and French. Another example of the different usage of the definite
article in English and French can be:
L'essence est très chère en France.
very expensive in France.
J'aime la glace, le
chocolat et le gâteau.
ice cream, chocolate, and cake.
These sentences are good examples of the fact when the definite
article is used in French with nouns in their general sense whereas in English
the given nouns belong to the group of material nouns and they do not get any
article when used in general sense.
Before concrete nouns which
designate a sort.
L’hirondelle est l’avant-coureur du printemps.
The swallow is the spring forerunner.
This example coincides with the English variant when the definite
article is used with the nouns in their generic sense.
Before concrete nouns in
plural for designating the totality of the objects.
Et la foule de rire, surtout les enfants et les jeunes filles. (By this example the French mean that all the girls and all the
children enter to this crowd.)
And the laughing crowd, especially the children and the girls.
Before the nouns that are
unique : soleil (sun), lune (moon), ciel (sky), horizon (horizon) in case
they are not individualized. The same case of the use we find in English as
La terre est verte à perte de vue.
The earth is green far and wide.
Before the nouns that
indicate a certain object.
A noun can be determined by:
the context :
Comme Luc arrivait devant l’Abîme, il aperçut à
l’angle du pont de bois, deux figures noires et chétives. Son coeur se
serra. C’était une femme, l’air très jeune, pauvrement vêtue,
et c’était un enfant , de six ans environ à peine couvert, la
face pâle, qui se tenait dans ses jupes. Comme Luc s’était arrête
à quelques pas de la jeune femme et de l’enfant, il entendit ce dernier
qui disait ...
This sentence presents an example of the use of the definite
article when it points out a noun determined by the context.
the situation in the given
circumstances: the interlocutors are familiar with the persons and the objects
they are speaking about:
Où peut-il être? Au réfectoire, à la
sale de lecture?
Where can he be? Is he in the dining room or in the reading room?
(The interlocutors speak about the rooms of the building where they are.)
a noun can be determined by
the attributive which is expressed by a noun or infinitive used with
Esmeralda se dirigea, à travers les spectateurs ébahis,
vers la porte de la maison où Phoebus l’appelait, à pas lents, chancelante,
et avec le regard troublé d’un oiseau qui cède à la
fascination d’un serpent .
Esmeralda made her way through the perplexed audience towards the
door of the house where Phoebus was calling her, she went slowly and her look
was troubled as of a bird that yielded to the snake’s fascination.
“…towards the door of the house where Phoebus was calling her”
stands for ‘…vers la porte de la maison où Phoebus l’appelait’ . In this
case the usage of the definite article coincides in both languages. In English
it is the case of a prepositional phrase, namely of-phrase which requires the
use of the definite article.
sometimes a noun can be
determined by a relative clause:
J’ai acheté le livre que tu m’avais recommandé.
I bought the book that you recommended me.
This case of the usage of the definite article in French coincides
with that in English when a noun is used with a particularizing attribute.
a noun can be determined by certain
adjectives as premier, dernier, principal, essential, primordial, etc. as well
as seul, unique and all the adjectives in superlative degree:
Cristophe se mit à l’abri sous le toit avançant de
la première maison . (Roland)
Cristophe hid under the shade of the first house roof.
The use of the definite article in English is accounted for the presence
of the ordinal numeral before the noun which has the function of limiting
a noun can be determined by
the meaning of the verb:
Je revis la grande cour sèche, le préau, la classe
I saw again a big dry court, a yard, an empty class.
The usage of the definite article in French accounts for the
meaning of the verb used in the sentence that implies a repeated action, so the
nouns are used with the definite article as they are already known for the
speaker. As for English the indefinite article is used as it presupposes the
meaning of one.
Judging by the examples presented above we can conclude that the
similar cases in the usage of the definite article in the English and the
French languages are:
when it is used as a
determinative of a certain object and here are some cases that coincide in both
when the context and the
situation itself make the noun definite;
when the noun is modified by
prepositional phrases: of-phrases and other prepositional phrases in English
and phrases with the preposition de in French ;
when the noun is used with a
when a noun is used in its
generic sense pointing out the whole class;
with the nouns that are
when a noun is used with ordinal
As for the differences in the usage of the definite article in
French that we do not meet in English they are the followings:
the main difference that
appears between these two languages is that in French the group of class nouns
contains the nouns that denote a material whereas in English this type of nouns
is classified in a separate group and does not have the same rules in the usage
of the definite article.
the definite article in
French can be used with the noun which is determined by the verb denoting a
the definite article is used
in French with material nouns, and it is not used in English.
But taking into consideration all the rest cases of the usage of
the definite article in English there will appear many more differences as