In my native language there are no definite and indefinite articles, and for me this topic is difficult to understand, so I ask this question. For me it is interesting, how do you think, what role do the articles have in English? And also, are there situations when the use of the article does not make any sense at all (that is, the article does not convey any information, not a whit, no whit), but to say correctly it is necessary to use it? If this happens, how often, how many percent of the use of articles in your speech does not make sense AT ALL. Or English-speaking people can not use articles, in situations when they do not see the meaning of their use (but when all people use them) and society will perceive it normally? If suddenly someone will understand me wrong, I don't want to insult articles or your language, I want to understand the state of things. P. S. I hope I translated the question correctly :)

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jason Bassford Supports Monica, Andrew, user3169, choster, Jeff Morrow Jul 17 '18 at 13:46

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    I'm not sure if this can be answered in an effectively objective way. I would say that articles provide more specificity to what is being discussed. Do we need them? No. If other languages don't have them, and they get along without them, then we don't need them either. (Which is not to say that if they suddenly "disappeared" current English-speaking people wouldn't have a problem. We are so used to them, that we use them unthinkingly.) Is English better for having them? I'd like to think so. (But I don't know if I could prove it definitively.) – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jul 16 '18 at 18:57
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    Welcome to ELL.SE. Unfortunately, I think this question is both too broad and off-topic for this site. Every natural language has features that speakers of other languages might consider "useless." Russian doesn't have articles. English doesn't have grammatical gender. Mandarin Chinese doesn't inflect for tense. Korean doesn't inflect for number. It can be counterproductive for a learner to attempt to draw parallels between languages, especially the more distantly related ones. – choster Jul 16 '18 at 19:05
  • The article almost always carries some information. It's a question of opinion whether this could be obtained instead from the context without any articles -- probably so, but I'm sure some nuance would be lost. I suggest you treat it like music. Like any other language, English has a certain rhythm to it, and articles help you keep the beat. – Andrew Jul 16 '18 at 19:07
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    I think the question might be made sufficiently narrow by asking "is there a grammatically correct English sentence containing an article, that would become non-grammatical if "the" was substituted with "a" (or the zero article as appropriate) – James K Jul 16 '18 at 19:34
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    @JamesK You would have to be careful here of saying that something is ungrammatical if the article is removed. It can't be called that just because there is no article. If the point of the argument is that meaning can still be inferred without it, then the real question is, is there a sentence that cannot be understood in any way at all without an article? Even if it seems completely awkward, if some meaning can be ascribed to it, then it would not "prove* the necessity of an article . . . – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jul 16 '18 at 20:32

It's a common problem for English learners - not enough articles, or too many.

Here is a usage that does not require articles:

crops are grown in fields

which is a general statement about where crops are grown. But

crops are grown in the fields

is about what particular fields are used for (arable as opposed to grazing). Also there is

the crops are grown in greenhouses

which says that particular crops are not grown in fields. Finally

the crops are grown in the fields

has too many articles because it doesn't say anything that is not already known about crops and fields - ah! There it is again: no articles because it is a general statement.

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    "The crops" would imply some specific set of crops, though. Without any further context I would assume this was previously defined, and read back to see if I missed anything. – Andrew Jul 16 '18 at 19:05
  • Here's a good example to dissect: He ate (a) lunch before he left for the airport. That sentence can be written with or without the article before "lunch", and the meaning is essentially the same. Moreover, both versions are grammatical. – J.R. Jul 16 '18 at 21:56
  • @J.R., the versions have slightly different implied meanings. "He ate lunch" would generally be interpreted to mean that the specifics of the meal aren't important, but it was a "typical" lunch for him. "He ate a lunch" would generally be interpreted to mean that he ate a meal that wasn't typical of his lunches, but it served the purpose of lunch in that instance, or that lunches were provided for a group of which he was a part, and he ate one of those. – fixer1234 Jul 17 '18 at 4:52
  • @fixer1234 - I'm not sure I buy that distinction. If my wife told me, "I ate a lunch before I drove to the airport," I don't think I'd become suddenly filled with curiosity, wondering what food she ate. Nor would I think she added the article because her meal was different from her usual daily fare. That said, perhaps it's true that we're more likely to use the article in the cases you describe. However, even at the conference, I could say, "They gave us lunch at noon," or, "They gave us a lunch at noon." Surely you wouldn't tell a learner that the latter is right but the former is wrong? – J.R. Jul 17 '18 at 10:04
  • @J.R., I agree they're both right. :-) – fixer1234 Jul 17 '18 at 10:26

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