When to use the indefinite article and when not

< Previous | Next >

Englishisgreat

Senior Member
German
Dear all,

When I say I eat an apple.

Can I say:

我吃一个苹果 or can I also say: 我吃苹果?

When should I use the indefinite article in Chinese and when not?
 
  • radagasty

    Senior Member
    Australia, Cantonese
    Chinese does not have articles, definite or otherwise. When one says 我吃一個蘋果, 一個 specifies the number of apples you're eating, thus »Ich esse einen Apfel.« If that is what you mean, then you have to say 一個, but this not an indefinite article, simple a number, exactly analogous to 我吃兩個蘋果 »Ich esse zwei Äpfel.« But when one is not speaking of a particular number of apples, then of course it is omitted: 我喜歡吃蘋果 »Ich esse gerne Äpfel.«
     

    SimonTsai

    Senior Member
    Taiwanese Mandarin
    我吃一个苹果
    I would have expected '一顆' and the particle '了'.

    There is something known as measure words, which in Mandarin includes '顆', 棵', '個', '杯', '盅', '罈', and so on. You may find the thread which follows interesting: Chinese is a tonal language — 中文是 <個 / 種> 聲調語言.

    If we were to narrowly define what exactly a measure word is, in Mandarin, then neither '個' nor '種' in the sentence above would be counted since there would be no loss of meaning if they were removed. That is, it is perfectly natural to say, '中文是聲調語言', which means the same. '個' and '種' are used as measure words in sentences like '山裏有三個土匪' and '我的老師只會說一種語言'.
    When should I use [an] indefinite article in Chinese and when not?
    I am not a grammarian, so I may be wrong. In my mind, indefinite articles in Mandarin are measure words in its broadest sense (in combination with the numeral '一', if any) that
    • can be removed from a sentence at no or little expense of the meaning, or
    • are obligatory but not given emphasis.
    For example, '我最近好像喜歡上了一個女孩'. This can be translated into English as, 'I have probably been into a girl recently'. But, if we were to remove '一個', it would mean, 'I have probably been into the girl recently' or 'I have probably been into girls recently', which makes sense only if the speaker expects readers to have already known about the girl, or the speaker has not been into girls, perhaps been into men, until recently, and either case it would sound somewhat unnatural. And it is not particularly important how many girls he is referring to. So '一個' is an indefinite article in this sentence.

    In contrast, '一種' in '我的老師只會說一種語言' is not an indefinite article, by definition. That sentence means, 'My teacher can speak one language only'. Note that we have used 'one'.
    1611739028952.png
     
    Last edited:

    T.D

    Senior Member
    mandarin
    Interesting topic. I did some research and it seems linguists believe the Chinese language does not use articles. But the use of articles is being increasingly adopted and accepted in modern Chinese, it's a phenomenon called the 'Europeanisation of the Chinese language'.
     

    SimonTsai

    Senior Member
    Taiwanese Mandarin
    I think that those who say that Mandarin does not have any indefinite articles actually mean that Mandarin doesn't have a word exclusively used as an indefinite article such as 'a' in English. The following use of '個' does seem to me to be an instance of the character being used as an indefinite article: '形體倒也是個靈物了'. (This is an excerpt from one of the best Chinese novels. The novel was completed and published more than two centuries ago, so such use of '個' is not a result of Europeanisation.)
     
    Last edited:

    T.D

    Senior Member
    mandarin
    I think that what those who say that Mandarin does not have any indefinite articles actually mean that Mandarin doesn't have a word exclusively used as an indefinite article such as 'a' in English.
    Chinese grammar is actually very loose and sometimes intertwined(says my Chinese teacher). But I think it is well-accepted that the Chinese language doesn't have articles(google it and you will find multiple Asian countries don't have articles in their languages, e.g. Thai, Chinese, Japanese). For us, we use classifiers/quantifiers instead.

    So it's we don't NEED articles in the Chinese language.
     

    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    When I say I eat an apple.

    Can I say:

    我吃一个苹果 or can I also say: 我吃苹果?
    When you say "I eat an apple" (not "I ate an apple" or "I'm eating an apple"), I think an "indefinite article" (or more accurately "numeral + classifer") or at least a measure word is required in Chinese because "I eat" describes habitual behavior and the amount of the fruit you habitually eat is usually an important piece of information concerning the habit you are describing. For example,

    I eat an apple everyday. 我每天吃一個 (or 顆) 蘋果. ==> An apple a day keeps the doctor away. 一天一個蘋果

    A: Do you eat anything before working out?
    B: Yes, I eat an apple. 我吃 (一) 個 (or 顆) 蘋果. ==> 練身前, 我都會先吃一個蘋果.
     
    Last edited:

    Vincent Tam

    Member
    Chinese and Cantonese
    Dear all,

    When I say I eat an apple.

    Can I say:

    我吃一个苹果 or can I also say: 我吃苹果?

    When should I use the indefinite article in Chinese and when not?
    two statements are grammatical but I don't think you would hear it often. Here are three ways to express this better.
    我想吃一个苹果
    我吃了一个苹果
    (你在吃啥?)我在苹果呢

    The first one could be said without the 想, but it seems incomplete without it.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top