Misconceptions about Article Use in English
Keywords:article use, (in)definiteness, reference, identification, restrictive function, identifying function, old and new information
The paper addresses some major misconceptions about article use in English, proceeding from purely syntactic issues to those relating directly to pragmatics. It is based on authentic, perfectly acceptable examples of article use that many Slovenian students of English would describe as ‘odd’ or ‘not in accordance with the rules’. The students’ explanations as to why the examples in question should be ruled out confirm the hypothesis that misconceptions about article use are largely ascribable to an insufficient understanding of grammatical rules. The rules governing article use are often misunderstood due to inaccurate interpretations of the terms defining/restrictive, definite, identifying, specifying, classifying, etc. The commonest mistake is equating defining with definite, and defining/restrictive with identifying, the consequence being the overuse of the definite article. Another important point made in the paper is that article use is a matter of pragmatics. The choice between the definite and indefinite articles reflects the speaker’s decision to present a piece of information as hearer-old or hearer-new respectively.
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