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According to Wikipedia (disclaimer: of course I realize that Wikipedia should not be regarded as an absolute authority, but I generally consider it to be a fairly accurate and reliable resource):

Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of the noun . . .

I guess I can understand how the words the, an, and a fit this description. But what about words such as this, that, those, etc.? It seems these serve essentially the same function (specifying definiteness), but unless I'm mistaken, they are categorized as demonstrative adjectives.

I find this particularly puzzling in light of the following two excerpts from Wikipedia:

Every noun must be accompanied by the article, if any, corresponding to its definiteness, and the lack of an article (considered a zero article) itself specifies a certain definiteness.

[. . .]

In languages having a definite article, the lack of an article specifically indicates that the noun is indefinite.

It seems to me that, in light of the above two statements, an expression such as "those boots" should somehow be considered indefinite (since there is no article), but isn't this absurd?

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  • 1
    The interesting to note, is that that comes from the Old English þæt which was also an article. (Source)
    – Eldroß
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 7:08

2 Answers 2

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Eldros got it right in his comment. This, that, these, and those are derived from various inflections of the demonstratives þes and þæt in Old English, which were used both as adjectives and as pronouns, just like their modern forms.

You could argue that since demonstrative adjectives are never used with an article (*the this hat), they are roughly equivalent to articles, but articles specify definiteness while demonstratives specify location, which may imply definiteness, but only incidentally.

For instance, I can say "those apples" whether or not I've already mentioned the apples in question. If the apples are definite, then a demonstrative simply provides emphasis or clarification:

I bought some apples last week. Those apples were really good.

But if the apples are indefinite, it gives them a location and makes them definite as a side-effect:

Hand me those apples next to you.
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  • The demonstratives count as definites when you’re working out anaphor resolution.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 15:24
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"That" and "those" (in their capacity as pronouns) are not "indefinite pronouns", but "demonstrative pronouns". The fact that they have a category of pronouns other than the "indefinite" category does, I think, suggest that they are indeed definite! And when they become adjectively, I doubt that they lose their definiteness in the process.

In languages having a definite article, the lack of an article specifically indicates that the noun is indefinite.

"The children run" has a definite article. "Children like to run" is an example of an indefinite noun. "My children like to run"? I think we're in the realms of the definite again. I suspect "the lack of an article or another part of speech in place of the article" would be a better, um, definition of indefiniteness!

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  • yes but what i am confused about is, we can say "a child likes to run" "the child likes to run" "this child likes to run" "that child likes to run" "my child likes to run" "some child likes to run" "children like to run" "blue children like to run" but we CANNOT say "blue child likes to run" "child likes to run"
    – cmarangu
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 19:54
  • i do not think it is fair to call special words like "this" "those" or "mine" the same name "adjective" when their gramatical function has some glaring differences. They aren't just pronouns either. perhaps "pronou-ajective" would be suitable
    – cmarangu
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 19:56

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