29 Indefinite articles

This feature is described more fully in chapter 29.


In this feature (based on WALS feature 38, by Matthew S. Dryer), we look at indefinite articles, elements that frequently occur in noun phrases and signal that the referent is not identifiable by the hearer, as in We have a dog.

Indefinite articles typically originate in the numeral ‘one’, and as a result they are very often restricted to count nouns and to singular nouns. Indefinite articles are often synchronically identical to the numeral 'one' (e.g. French un). When a form identical to the numeral 'one' is used often where English would use its indefinite article (in particular in contexts where emphasizing the cardinality would be pointless), this is regarded as an indefinite article.

If a language has several forms of the indefinite article, and at least one of them is distinct from the numeral, the first value is chosen, even if the segmental difference is small. However, if the only difference is stress, the language has the second value.


Martin Haspelmath and the APiCS Consortium


Indefinite article distinct from numeral ‘one’20
Indefinite article identical to numeral ‘one’46
No indefinite article, but definite article1
Neither indefinite nor definite article9

Language Value Lexifier Details Source
Id Primary text Analyzed text Gloss Translation Type Language Audio Details