Accounting for L2-English Learners’ Article Choices

Benjamin White


This study investigates how countability, definiteness, and specificity contribute to second language (L2) English learners’ article decisions on a forced-choice elicitation test. In 4 advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, 41 participants read short dialogues and chose a, the or Ø for target items. Each item was one of three noun types (imaginable count, abstract count, and noncount) within one of four semantic contexts ([+definite,+specific], [+definite,-specific], [-definite,+specific], and [-definite,-specific]). Participants explained their choices and indicated degree of confidence for each choice. Multivariate weighting reveals noun type and semantic context were significant predictors of indefinite article choice and zero article choice, whereas only semantic context was significant in predicting definite article choice. Learners’ confidence was lowest for abstract nouns. Participants’ explanations show 3 key missteps: choosing zero article for nouns identified as noncount in definite contexts, identifying abstract count nouns as noncount, and identifying noncount nouns as count. Pedagogical suggestions based upon these findings are discussed.


Key Words: English articles, countability, definiteness, specificity, ESL

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