Home > 8. The Dragons of Grammar > The Dragon Solitary: A Definite Problem

The Dragon Solitary: A Definite Problem



Dragons have a definite public relations problem: they are almost always pictured as fierce individuals, spewing fire from their mouths, jealously guarding some ill-gotten treasure hoard, or doing battle with a desperate knight.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Dragons, in fact, are a rather cuddly bunch, sharing an intense social life, and not much given to violence of any short (except for honor duels, which are more entertainment than anything else).

To be fair, however, there is such a thing as a dragon solitary. These individuals (there is no other word for them) have broken off relations with other dragons, usually as the result of a powerful obsession, usually with wealth of some sort. These are the dragons that have made their way into our imaginations, and the Dragons of Grammar feel it’s time to set accounts right. They would also like to point out the changes that the existence of dragon solitaries have wrought on Dragonish, the language that dragons speak–and especially on the question of Definiteness in the language.


In regards to definiteness, RT ventures the following definition: Definiteness is the grammatical category that distinguishes between a special instance or member of a group and a general instance; that is, for instance, between the apple and an apple. An apple (indefinite noun) has not been mentioned in a conversation; the apple (definite noun) has. “I brought an apple for your lunch.” “Why, thank you! Would you like to share the apple with me?”


In English, articles are used to convey a noun’s state of definiteness. There are three states of definiteness in English: 1) definite, 2) indefinite, and 3) zero. (RT himself admits to having a certain fondness for the use of the zero article in his poetry). It has not been firmly established whether or not English also uses a negative article (“no” as in “No problem”). Finally, though it is regarded as a determiner, the word “some” is the closest English comes to having a partitive article.


Many languages use other means to express definiteness. Some languages, for instance Arabic and Hebrew, attach articles (al- and ha-) directly to the noun. In Basque, the article is attached to the noun, but if the noun is modified by an adjective, the article is attached to the adjective. And in Hungarian, the verb is marked for definiteness.


Which brings us back to our original question concerning Dragonish. Now, as a way of indicating their separateness from the ordinary run of dragons, dragon solitaries do not speak High Dragonish, the language of all other dragons, including the DoG. Instead, they speak Heroic Dragonish, the ancient root tongue of High Dragonish, which in regards of definiteness, is a rather straightforward language, having at least five states–definite, indefinite, partitive, negative, and zero. But Heroic Dragonish has two more states: 1) the heroic state (referring of course to the solitaries and all the things they like) and 2) the ordinary-boring state (referring to normal dragons and their interests). In retaliation, certain ordinary dragons (but not the DoG) have invented a get-a-real-life state. The DoG are mediating negotiations between the two parties to get the offensive states removed, while the Big Dragon is negotiating to get the solitaries to return  their ill-gotten gold to the proper owners. Things just aren’t the way they used to be in the days of Sigurd and Beowulf, the solitaries complain…   RT


P.S. RT has been advised by the DoG that their next post will contain a reprise of their holiday festivities. That’s right, loyal readers–you guessed it!  The DoG are inviting you to Tea Time with The Dragons of Grammar: The Sequel! Last year’s tea time was a bit of a romp, and our dragons promise to be a more sober and discrete bunch this time around. RT says: Don’t count on it!!!


Image: Blue Dragon Head; WikiCmns; Public Domain; author: Alberto Jorge.


  1. December 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    We’ve been reading the “My Father’s Dragon” trilogy which presents us with cuddly lovely dragons, and this summer on a road trip enjoyed the delightful dragon tales of Edith Nesbit. Appreciate this post 🙂

    • December 21, 2012 at 5:23 am

      NF: until i started the DoG, I never had much interest in dragons (tho i kind of liked the one in A Wizard of Earthsea)…maybe it’s something i will read more about when i get some free time… thx for the comment! RT

  2. December 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Amusing little take on dragons and language.

    • December 21, 2012 at 5:22 am

      attD: thx for the support and for stopping by! RT

  1. March 6, 2013 at 3:46 pm

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