I have been studying Peter Master's 2003 paper regarding null and zero articles and I am still not clear if he is saying that this is a peculiarity of English or if he is saying that this is a conceptual matter and that it will be apparent in all languages.

I ask this particularly as the matter of absent articles is something I meet with in Greek which has no indefinite article and is very generous with the definite. When the Greek article is missing, therefore, it is often quite a significant matter.

[Note: This question was asked on ELU but was thought to be more appropriate here as it concerns languages other than English.]

[Note to clarify : I am particularly interested in the precision of Hellenistic Greek. In English 'I have a dog' is ambiguous. (I might have three dogs, but I am deliberately not specifying.) But in Greek, there is no ambiguity - I am only admitting to possessing the concept 'dogness'.]


No language can have something one, there are no languages with one tense, or one case, or one number, etc. There always must be an opposition for the category to exist in a language. For example, Hungarian has only the definite article a/az (az before a vowel). But you cannot say Hungarian has just one article, because the absence of the article in Hungarian is meaningful, it means the indefinite noun state, that is why the definite article a/az is opposed to the zero article. The same in English: the money vs. money – the zero article means "not definite, i.e. indefinite".

If you take Russian which has no articles whatsoever, you cannot say that all the nouns there have zero articles, because they are not opposed to anything non-zero. In such cases we say that a language has no such category. There is no category of definiteness/indefiniteness in Russian, that is why there are no even zero articles in it.

If it looks like a language has something one (one tense, or one case, or one number, etc.), we say this language has no tense, no case, no number, etc. If it looks like a category is expressed with zero morphemes only, be sure, that language has no such category.

  • So are you saying that Greek actually has three articles (null, 'the' and zero) ? Or two ('the' and zero) ?
    – user20234
    Oct 18 '17 at 16:34
  • @NigelJ - I don't speak Greek and this site is not about specific languages. But I khow that Modern Greek does have indefinite articles, not only definite. Generally speaking, there are 2 articles in Modern Greek: definite and indefinite, the absence of articles is a variant of the indefinite article.
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 18 '17 at 18:20
  • Thank you. I should have specified that I am only familiar with Hellenistic Greek.
    – user20234
    Oct 18 '17 at 18:54
  • Portuguese certainly has a zero-article; it is difficult to say what it really expresses, besides that it isn't either definiteness or indefiniteness (both of which have their own set of articles, inflected by gender and number). Oct 19 '17 at 19:47

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