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Grammatical Forms of English Determiner Phrases

Grammatical Forms of English Determiner Phrases

Determiners are a closed class of words that provide information such as familiarity, location, quantity, and number about a noun or noun phrase. A determiner phrase is a phrase in which at least one determiner functions as the head of the phrase plus any additional determiners or p-words functioning as particles. The two grammatical forms that appear within the internal structure of English determiner phrases are:

  • Determiners
  • P-words

Determiner phrases may consist of two or more determiners plus a p-word. Determiner phrases perform the grammatical function of determinative.

Forms of Determiner Phrases

The first form of determiner phrase is the determiner phrase consisting of two determiners. For example:

The second form of determiner phrase is the determiner phrase consisting two determiners and a p-word. For example:

  • many of the counties (quantifier + p-word + article)
  • some of these books (quantifier + p-word + demonstrative determiner)
  • all of her knitting (quantifier + p-word + possessive determiner)
  • two of a kind (numeral + p-word + article)
  • seven of his grandchildren (numeral + p-word + possessive determiner)

The third form of determiner phrase is the determiner phrase consisting of three determiners. For example:

  • all her many accomplishments (quantifier + possessive determiner + quantifier)
  • all the many layers (quantifier + article + quantifier)
  • all these many difficulties (quantifier + demonstrative determiner + quantifier)

The fourth form of determiner phrase is the determiner phrase consisting of three determiners and a p-word. For example:

  • all of the twenty soldiers (quantifier + p-word + article + numeral)
  • all of the many cakes (quantifier + p-word + article + quantifier)
  • half of her thirty-two relatives (quantifier + p-word + possessive determiner + numeral)
  • none of these many problems (quantifier + p-word + demonstrative determiner + quantifier)
  • some of these 75 choices (quantifier + p-word + demonstrative determiner + numeral)
  • nine of those dozen cookies (numeral + p-word + demonstrative determiner + quantifier)
  • all of my three children (quantifier + p-word + possessive determiner + numeral)
  • few of your many queries (quantifier + p-word + possessive determiner + quantifier)
  • all nine of the unicorns (quantifier + numeral + p-word + article)
  • two of the many monsters (numeral + p-word + article + quantifier)
  • three of the seven fairies (numeral + p-word + article + numeral)

Other combinations of determiners and p-words are also possible in forming determiner phrases in English.

Determiner Phrase

Determiner Phrase

Another Analysis

Paul J. Hopper offers another analysis of the determiner phrase. He states that the determiner is a “ragbag of different forms” and that determiner is a “function name rather than a formal category.” In other words, the function of determiner lacks an above-the-line label in a form-function diagram. He does, however, identify the determiner phrase (DetPhr), which includes different kinds of determiners named according to position in a phrase: central determiners, pre-determiners, and post-determiners.

Central determiners include articles, demonstrative determiners, and possessive determiners. The central determiner is the head of the determiner phrase and receives the designation determiner (Det). Pre-determiners include quantifiers and numerals. The pre-determiner precedes the central determiner and receives the designation pre-determiner (PreDet). Post-determiners include numerals, both cardinal and ordinal numbers. The post-determiner follows the central determiner and receives the designation post-determiner (PostDet). Hopper also labels the of in a determiner phrase as a preposition that functions as a link.

Hopper Determiner Phrase

Hopper Determiner Phrase

The problem with Hopper’s definitions of and within the determiner phrase is that central determiners are not limited to articles, demonstrative determiners, and possessive determiners. For example, in all nine of the unicorns, the numeral nine appears between the quantifier all and definite article the. To use Hopper’s analysis necessitates expanding the definition of the central determiner. Additionally, the word of in a determiner phrase no longer functions prepositionally. A better formal term for of is p-word, which is a preposition that no longer performs a prepositional functions. While link is a sufficient functional term for the p-word, I prefer the term particle, which is a function word that expresses a grammatical relationship with another word or words. Hopper’s analysis also fails to represent the relationship between a p-word and a determiner. In all nine of the unicorns, the p-word of forms a relationship with the numeral nine within the larger determiner phrase.

Modified Determiner Phrase

Modified Determiner Phrase

Therefore, if we do wish to distinguish determiners based on position in a determiner phrase, I propose using determiner as the formal category and using pre-determinative, determinative, and post-determinative as functions. However, I am not fully convinced of the need to differentiate the functions of determiners in a determiner phrase based on position. Just as both the adjectives long and dull equally modify the noun book in long, dull book, a string of two or three determiners equally provide non-attributive information such as definiteness, familiarity, location, quantity, and number about a nominal form.

Determiner phrases are phrases in which at least one determiner functions as the head of the phrase plus any additional determiners or p-words functioning as particles.

Summary

Determiner phrases are phrases in which at least one determiner functions as the head of the phrase plus any additional determiners or p-words functioning as particles.

The two grammatical forms that appear within the internal structure of English determiner phrases are determiners and p-words.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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