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Determiner (class)

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Determiner (class)

For the written element in logographic scripts, see Determinative. For other meanings see Determination (disambiguation).

  • The girl is a student.
  • I've lost my keys.
  • Some folks get all the luck.
  • Which book is that?
  • I only had thirty-seven drinks.
  • I'll take this one.
  • Both windows were open.

A determiner is a word, phrase or affix that occurs together with a noun or noun phrase and serves to express the reference of that noun or noun phrase in the context. That is, a determiner may indicate whether the noun is referring to a definite or indefinite element of a class, to a closer or more distant element, to an element belonging to a specified person or thing, to a particular number or quantity, etc. Common kinds of determiners include definite and indefinite articles (like the English the and a[n]), demonstratives (like this and that), possessive determiners (like my and their), and quantifiers (like many, few and several).

Two major semantic differences among determiners are definiteness and indefiniteness. The main representative determiners of each are the and a/an respectively, for singular NPs. Plural NP’s, however, are not as black and white. the can easily claim the role for specifying plural definiteness. The difference between the null determiner and some, is very subtle yet is not universally viewed as the plural form of a/an, while some seems to assume this role. The following table summarizes these determiners. [1]

Most determiners have been traditionally classed along with adjectives, and this still occurs: for example, demonstrative and possessive determiners are sometimes described as demonstrative adjectives and possessive adjectives respectively. However, modern theorists of grammar prefer to distinguish determiners as a separate word class from adjectives, which are simple modifiers of nouns, expressing attributes of the thing referred to. This distinction applies particularly in languages like English which use definite and indefinite articles, frequently as a necessary component of noun phrases – the determiners may then be taken to be a class of words which includes the articles as well as other words that function in the place of articles. (The composition of this class may depend on the particular language's rules of syntax; for example, in English the possessives my, your etc. are used without articles and so can be regarded as determiners, whereas their Italian equivalents mio etc. are used together with articles and so may be better classed as adjectives.) Not all languages can be said to have a lexically distinct class of determiners.

In some languages, the role of certain determiners can be played by affixes (prefixes or suffixes) attached to a noun, or by other types of inflection. For example, definite articles are represented by suffixes in Romanian, Bulgarian and Macedonian (the Swedish bok "book", when definite, becomes boken "the book", while the Romanian caiet "notebook" similarly becomes caietul "the notebook"). Some languages such as Finnish have possessive affixes, which play the role of possessive determiners like my and his.

X-bar theory contends that every noun has a corresponding determiner (or specifier). In a case where a noun does not have an explicit determiner (as in physics uses mathematics), X-bar theory hypothesizes the presence of a zero article, or zero determiner. Noun phrases that contain only a noun and do not have a determiner present are known as bare noun phrases "bare NPs".[2] Examples of bare NPs are: chair, students, bridge, etc. Some modern grammatical approaches regard determiners (rather than nouns) as the head of their phrase, and thus refer to such phrases as determiner phrases rather than noun phrases. For more detail on theoretical approaches to the status of determiners, see .

A determiner phrase contains a minimum of an NP. There are sometimes determiners to the left of the noun itself, but this varies for semantic reasons. The singular NP book can be a constituent of a DP headed by the following determiners: the, a, my, this, which, etc. The plural version of the above NP books can be headed by the same determiners in certain cases, but others must undergo allophonic changes: the, some, , my, those, which. Despite the variations that DP’s undergo because of the NP they dominate, DP’s still satisfy rules of basic constituency tests. For example the conjunction test:

  • [The dog] and [the cat]. Two DP's with the same head
  • [My leg] and [her arm]. Two DP's with different heads
  • [Some bananas] and [a carrot]. Dominating NP's of different number value

Universal Grammar is the theory that all humans are born equipped with grammar, and all languages share certain properties. There are arguments that determiners are not a part of Universal Grammar, and is instead an emergent syntactic category. This has been shown through the studies of some languages' histories, including Dutch.[3]

Types of determiners

  • Distributives

For details of the use of determiners in English, see English determiners (and specifically for the definite and indefinite articles, English articles).

See also


External links

  • GrammarBank – Determiners Practice
  • SIL Glossary of linguistic terms – What is a determiner?
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