This question might sound weird.

Are determiners mandatory in Chinese?

I have in mind words such as demonstratives 这, quantifying words 一些, 许多, etc.

This paper (Chen 2004) states:

Finally, we turn to the last question: is it justified to assert that definiteness as a grammatical category, in the narrow sense of the term, exists in Chinese? English presents an exemplary case for the existence of definiteness as a grammatical category, as the language displays a paradigmatic contrast between two simple, fully grammaticalized articles, one definite and the other indefinite. (...) Chinese, however, represents a case that does not accord very well with what has been established for these languages in the current literature. To begin with, there is no simple, fully grammaticalized marker of definiteness in Chinese, like the definite article in English. (...) Furthermore, it is not obligatory to mark a nominal expression as either definite or indefinite in Chinese, as is the case in English.

In contrast, this paper (Orvig et al. 2013) concerning French determiners states:

In French – except for certain non-referential uses (see Table 2 below) – determiners (Leeman, 2004) are mandatory to actualize a noun and convey the marks of gender and number.

So I am looking for a scientific reference which states something echoing the statement in the paper on French, something like "Determiners are not mandatory to actualize a noun and convery the marks of gender and number."


Chen, P. (2004). Identifiability and definiteness in Chinese. Linguistics, 42, 1129-1184.

Orvig, A. S., Marcos, H., Caët, S., Corlateanu, C., Da Silva, C., Hassan, R., ... & Morgenstern, A. (2013). Definite and indefinite determiners in French-speaking toddlers: Distributional features and pragmatic-discursive factors. Journal of pragmatics, 56, 88-112.

  • Please provide some example sentences/phrases that you have questions with. Also, I don't think this is a place to ask for "reference" but "answers".
    – r13
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 14:05
  • For starters, there are no gender and number in Chinese. So it appears that "determiners" are not necessary. However, as r13 said, some examples would be nice. Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 2:32

2 Answers 2


The way that Chinese expresses "definite or indefinite" is called "特指" and "泛指". There are a couple of ways to indicate your "所指" (the signified object)。For example,

这屋里有一个坏人。There is a bad guy in the room.

这个人是坏人。This person is a bad guy.

这屋里谁是坏人?Who is the bad guy in the room?

这个人是坏人吗?Is the person a bad guy?

"特指" and "泛指" can use "这个" or "一个" to determine the meaning of "definite" (the) or "indefinite" (a), but it is not a strict grammar rule. Generally, Chinese grammar rules are very loose, flexible, or "inaccurate". It also heavily relies on the "context" of the dialogue.


without a determiner, it sounds you're making statement about some general class/set of things/men or concept, without conditions.

“famous sayings” are often like this. for example:


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