Considering how many learners – especially more advanced ones – like to find out why the definite article has or hasn't been included, shouldn't we have a canonical post about articles or determiners in general?

Ideally the post would be about what meaning differences indefinite, definite and zero articles would make; but I'm tossing the idea. Let's have a discussion.

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Most people who ask about articles have already been bombarded with canons about articles, and are feeling confused because the canons conflict and are often demonstrably wrong. There is a lot of nonsense that is blessed and taught as gospel.

I think the big problem with English articles is that they are expected to mean something; and they don't. They're just part of the machinery, and that's why almost all their uses are idiomatic; an article has no more meaning than a washer on a screw. If you want to know why they are or aren't used, you really have to understand an awful lot about the machinery.

The best thing we could do is list all the idiomatic uses of the articles that we know of. There are hundreds. This would take a lot of work; somebody has to collect them, and characterize and classify them, and explain each one. Consistently, and appropriately. I've seen PhD theses with less information than that.

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    Indeed, article usage just can't fit in several posts, but I was thinking we should document the usages learners have to deal with often and leave the other ones out. Still, an answer from John Lawler makes this discussion worth it.
    – M.A.R.
    Jan 27, 2016 at 16:15
  • What of reading about "semantics of english articles"? Would this assist?
    – user8712
    Jan 29, 2016 at 0:38
  • So much for Not so fast! (When should I accept my answer?). I am not talking to @JohnLawler but the OP of this question, who I cannot ping due to his using a nonstandard font.
    – GoDucks
    Feb 1, 2016 at 19:30
  • The list is a great idee. I guess that it will become a dictionary , one third the size of a normal dictionary or even more.
    – rogermue
    Feb 3, 2016 at 16:00

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