English Majors: "The" is now an adj???

Jinx, take a few courses in linguistics (or read some books about it), enough that you understand some of the basics of generative grammar. The traditional division of the words of English (or of any other language) into the standard eight parts of speech is, at best, a rough first pass at dividing up the words into similar categories. Yes, in some ways, articles are a separate category with their own rules, but, yes, in some ways they work like adjectives in that they modify the nouns which they proceed. There’s no way for me to tell from your sketchy description whether the categories that this teacher is teaching his or her students are more useful than the standard division into eight parts of speech.

You sound like the parent of a child who comes home from school and says, “Hey, Mom, the teacher taught us how to do arithmetic in binary today. See, if you add 101101 and 110110, you get 1100011.” You say, “What, that’s not true. If you add 101101 and 110110, you get 211211. What kind of nonsense is that teacher telling you now?” When your kid says, “No, the addition is done in binary, not in decimal,” you say, “Nonsense, there’s only one kind of numbers. Your teacher is an evil person for not teaching you to calculate right, and I’m going to get her fired for it.”

“The” is obviously a definite article, but I often confuse people when I tell them that “yes” is considered an adverb. I know it is because the dictionary tells me so, but I really don’t understand why it’s an adverb…


I never heard that the was an adjective, but it can be an adverb in phrases like “the more the merrier”, meaning “to this extent”, or “to the extent that”. Actually that’s a completely different word that has nothing to do with the definite article.

Yes is an adverb because, like all adverbs, it

John B. Opdycke, Harper’s English Grammar 162 (1965). Yes is an “adverb of affirmation,” which

Id. at 166.

Id. at 173-74 (cross-reference omitted).

Another Linguistics major checking in here.

The is considered a Determiner, which is a subclass of adjectives. As a determiner, it does function a bit differently than your “standard” adjectives. For one thing, in English you would never say, “Book the” although you can (occasionally) put the standard adjectives after the nouns they modify.

If you want to get deeper into this, consider that words such as both and all belong to another subclass called predeterminers.

This thread is really just getting into a question of taxonomy. Is the an article? an adjective? a determiner? How about all three. The terms are not mutually exclusive:

Kenneth G. Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard Written English 40 (1993).