What is the difference between definite and indefinite nouns?

Expert Answers info

edcon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write1,453 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Arts

Generally, the concepts of definite and indefinite in the English language functions to remove ambiguity or confusion, but it is imperfect in its ability to clarify.

A definite noun in English is usually preceded by the definite article "the," removing any ambiguity in terms of who or what is being referred to. For example, the definite noun phrase "the waiter" refers to a specific person, as opposed to the indefinite noun phrase containing the indefinite article "a" which introduces ambiguity. For example, "a waiter" could refer to any waiter and therefore is nonspecific. However, if a diner has not yet met anyone on the waitstaff and says "the waiter will take care of our drinks," the waiter is being referred to in the abstract—not a specific person—even with the definite article "the."

What delineates indefinite from definite nouns or articles is something that philosopher Bertrand Russell calls "uniqueness" in an essay that includes an argument about the role of definite determiners. Russell's argument includes ideas that go beyond the pragmatics of grammatical elements that prevent confusion about case.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write4,622 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

Definite nouns refer to a specific number of things. For example, a definite noun is "bird." When readers come across this noun, they are sure of how many birds the sentence, or phrase, is referring to. Given that the word "bird" is singular, a reader knows that it refers to one bird. On the other hand, when one comes across the word "birds," he or she is not certain of the number; therefore, the noun is indefinite. The reader is only aware that more than one bird is referring to, given the word "birds" is plural. One must also be sure to examine the article ("a" and "the"). "A" is an indefinite article (it refers to a general, not specific, noun), while "the" is a definite article (given it refers to a specific noun).


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

sid-sarfraz | Student

Noun is said to be definite when we are talking about specific name, place or thing. Basically word THE is used to talk about any noun specifically. Like for example;

  • Muslims pray at THE mosque 5 times a day.
  • My daughter is at THE park playing with other kids.

Noun is said to be indefinite when we are talking generally about any place, thing or animal. "A" or "AN" represents indefinite nouns. Like for example;

  • AN apple a day keeps the doctor away.
  • Let's play A game.

Unlock This Answer Now