Historically, definite articles are often related to demonstratives.

How might one characterize whether a word in a language is a definite article or a demonstrative?

1 Answer 1


This can be difficult to pin down. Demonstratives are typically used to pick something out by their location in space (or time) relative to the position of the speaker (deixis). Definite articles function as a referent-tracking device, and pick something out as having already been mentioned, or already known about. To diagnose forms as demonstratives and/or definite articles we have to study recorded utterances, along with their context, and work out how the forms in question are being used. Some languages have distinct demonstratives and definite articles, some have one set of forms that covers both functions.

  • .. and some don't have anything that shows definiteness.
    – kaleissin
    Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 6:02
  • @kaleissin: examples? Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 13:48
  • @kaleissin I think all languages would have some way of expressing definitiness (it seems to me to be a necessary function for human communication), but there are plenty that don't have a definite article. I'm sure that all languages have demonstratives, but their core function is not definiteness but to indicate something by location with reference to the speaker. Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 1:08
  • How about sentences like "This theory ... "? What is the deixis in this case?
    – Louis Rhys
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 17:45
  • 1
    @LouisRhys Discourse deixis. Commented Oct 9, 2011 at 0:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.