Just like in English, in Dutch we use definite and indefinite articles. We use them pretty much in the same way but there are a few differences. The differences will be outlined in the use of articles?.
What is an article?
An article always precedes a noun (thing or person). It tells us whether we are dealing with a particular thing or person (definite) or whether we are talking about just any thing or person, or about things or persons in general (indefinite). In English, we have the indefinite article 'a' (or 'an') and the definite article 'the'.
'A' means roughly the same as 'one'. If we place 'a' before a noun, we are saying that this noun is singular (one).
- "I want to buy one book" could be an answer to the question "How many books do you want to buy?
- The statement "I want to buy a book" could be the answer to the question what you would like to buy. In languages that do not have articles, you would simply say "I want to buy book."
By using 'one', we are stressing the quantity (a single one, merely one), while 'a' is used when the quantity is not relevant.
'The' is similar to the demonstratives 'this', that, 'these' and 'those'. We use this article when we are referring to a specific thing or person. When we use a demonstrative pronoun, we are also referring to a specific thing or person but we are also 'pointing' at it.
- I live in that house (I am now pointing at it).
- I live in the house (no need to point at it, you know which house I am talking about).