An article is a word that is put next to a noun to indicate the type of reference being made to the noun.

Articles can have various functions:

  • a definite article (English the) indicates that the noun refers to a specific thing that the speaker has in mind (The chair is broken)
  • an indefinite article (English a or some) indicates that the noun refers to something of the kind, but the particular instance isn't important (Block the door with a chair).
  • a partitive article indicates an indefinite quantity of a mass noun; there is no partitive article in English, though the word some often has that function. An example is French du/de la, as in Voulez-vous du café ? ("Do you want some coffee?")

Some languages such as Chinese, classical Latin, and Toki Pona rarely use articles, indicating such distinctions in other ways or not at all. Some languages, including Japanese and Russian do not have them at all. Other languages, including Welsh and Esperanto, have a definite article, but not an indefinite article.

Many European languages that have grammatical gender usually have their article agree with the gender of the noun (French le "the" masculine, la feminine).

The articles in these languages not only distinguish between the sexes, but can indicate different meanings depending on the article used, as in Spanish, where la cólera is "anger" and el cólera is "cholera", or German, where die Steuer is "the tax" and das Steuer is "the steering-wheel", or Swedish, where en plan is "a plan" and ett plan is "a plane".

The use of articles may vary between languages. For example, French uses its definite article in cases where English uses no article, such as in general statements about a mass noun Le maïs est un grain, "Maize is a grain").

By the same token, the words used as English articles have other grammatical functions. See A, an, The.

In Scandinavian languages the definite article can be a suffix; examples planen is "the plan", and planet is "the plane" or "the airplane's wing". (en plan is "a plan", and et plan is "a plane" or "an airplane's wing".) Romanian language also uses suffixes for articles; example consulul is "the consul". Macedonian language also; example drvo - tree, drvoto - the tree.

See also: determiner