Articles are adjectives?

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Adam Entous:
Why are articles considered adjectives? They do not describe the property or condition of a subject, noun, or object. If they weren't grammatically significant I would think they are interjections.

AE
Grammar neophyte
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david56:
[nq:1]Why are articles considered adjectives?[/nq]
Are they? Who says?
[nq:1]They do not describe the property or condition of a subject, noun, or object. If they weren't grammatically significant I would think they are interjections.[/nq]
It's perfectly possible to live without articles - ask any Russian.

David
==
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John Lawler:
[nq:1]Why are articles considered adjectives? They do not describe the property or condition of a subject, noun, or object. If they weren't grammatically significant I would think they are interjections.[/nq]
They are not considered adjectives, except by the ignorant. You've been reading (or being taught by someone who's read) the wrong books.

It used to be thought that there were Eight Parts of Speech, no more, no less. This number was inviolable. It was set down by Donatus in "De partibus orationis pars minor", a grammatical catechism that was learned by heart in first grade for over a thousand years. You can get the original at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/texts/donatus.4.html

Here's how it begins (it's in Latin, naturally; all writing, reading and education in Europe was in Latin for about the first 1500 years of the Common Era):
Partes orationis quot sunt? 'How many parts of speech are there?' Octo. 'Eight.'
Quae? 'What?'
Nomen pronomen 'Noun, pronoun,
verbum adverbium verb, adverb,
participium coniunctio participle, conjunction, praepositio interiectio. preposition, interjection.'

Notice, no adjectives. "Adjective" is a term that developed late in the Medieval period. In Latin one can get away without mentioning adjectives, since adjectives can be used as nouns and decline exactly like nouns, and were considered nouns by Latin grammarians. In Medieval grammar, a distinction arose between a "nomen substantivum", or substantive noun proper, and a "nomen adjectivum", or noun that modified another noun. Gradually the "nomen" part dropped off, and "adjectivum" came to be used by itself. Meanwhile, to keep only eight parts of speech, "participle" was quietly allowed to slip off the list.
Since Latin was the language of literacy, grammar dealt with Latin. Latin had no articles. When people started to try to deal with English, which has articles, they found themselves with the (revised) Procrustean list of eight and had to fit articles somewhere on it. Since articles modify nouns like adjectives, they decided they should be considered adjectives. End of discussion.
Of course, nowadays we know that not all Medieval science was correct; there are more than five planets, for instance. Eight is not a bad number of parts of speech for Latin. But English is not Latin. There are more than eight parts of speech in English. In particular, articles belong to the category of Determiner, which also includes quantifiers, like "some", "all", "every", "ten", etc., and which has its own little niche at the beginning of the English noun phrase, before all the adjectives.

Now we don't teach everybody Latin, but since Latin class was where grammar was taught, the result has been that only dribs and drabs of the grammatical tradition, imperfectly remembered and imaginatively trapped out with rationalizations and justifications, gets taught in Anglophone schools. This creationist grammar sticks to the Eight Parts of Speech and has the same old problems with them. Luckily almost nobody pays attention to it.

Not everything they tell you in school is true, I'm sorry to say.

-John Lawler www.umich.edu/~jlawler Univ of Michigan Linguistics Dept "Scholars who have made and taught from English grammars were previously and systematically initiated in the Greek and Latin tongues, so that they have, without deigning to notice the difference, taken the rules of the latter and applied them indiscriminately and dogmatically to the former." William Hazlitt 'English Grammar' (1829)
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Evan Kirshenbaum:
[nq:1]Not everything they tell you in school is true, I'm sorry to say.[/nq]
I bet you tell that to your students, too. But what if you're wrong...?

Evan Kirshenbaum + HP Laboratories >Well, if you can't believe what you
1501 Page Mill Road, 1U, MS 1141 >read in a comic book, what can youPalo Alto, CA 94304 >believe?!

(650)857-7572
http://www.kirshenbaum.net /
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Adam Entous:
My grammar book says that "articles usually function as adjectives". It doesn't specifically say they are adjectives. What part of speech do you consider them to be?
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Simon R. Hughes:
Thus spake Adam Entous:
[nq:2]Are they? Who says? It's perfectly possible to live without articles - ask any Russian.[/nq]
[nq:1]My grammar book says that "articles usually function as adjectives". It doesn't specifically say they are adjectives. What part of speech do you consider them to be?[/nq]
Determiners (a word class that includes certain pronouns, too).

Next!

Simon R. Hughes
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Martin Ambuhl:
[nq:1]My grammar book says that "articles usually function as adjectives". It doesn't specifically say they are adjectives. What part of speech do you consider them to be?[/nq]
They are determiners.

Martin Ambuhl
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Aaron J. Dinkin:
[nq:1]In particular, articles belong to the category of Determiner, which also includes quantifiers, like "some", "all", "every", "ten", etc., and which has its own little niche at the beginning of the English noun phrase, before all the adjectives.[/nq]
"Ten"? Cardinal numbers seem more like adjectives than like determiners to me. "The ten commandments", "these ten items", and so on.

-Aaron J. Dinkin
Dr. Whom
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Adam Entous:
Very thorough answer. Thanks! My grammar book isn't very detailed. I think it was written for elementary students. Since I knew next to nothing about grammar (I had only heard of maybe four of the eight parts of speech) I decided to go with a basic book. I had one grammar class sometime before junior high. After that it wasn't covered much. The only reason I spell right is because I manually corrected all my spelling mistakes that Microsoft Word underlined over a period of years. Before that nearly every sentence I typed contained a spelling error. I still run everything through a spell checker and rarely see a spelling error.
Are there other word categories that (in your opinion) would be better suited as a fundamental part of speech?
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