If I had to pick a single grammar topic to focus on for the rest of my life, I would likely choose determiners. I did not learn the term determiner until my junior year as an undergraduate when I took the linguistics class that inspired my subsequent study of all things linguistic. I have often stated that determiners are not adjectives. Recently I encountered a question about commas and the word another. The answer came down to the form and function of another.
First, what is a determiner? Determiners provide non-attributive information such as definiteness, familiarity, location, quantity, and number about a nominal form. Articles, demonstrative determiners, interrogative determiners, possessive determiners, possessive interrogative determiners, quantifiers, and numerals are all types of determiners in the English language. (Some grammars lump quantifiers and numerals together. Some grammars lump the possessive interrogative determiner under possessive determiners and/or interrogative determiners.) Multiple determiners in the form of a determiner phrase can function as a determinative in English grammar. The following italicized words are determiners:
- the cat
- that kitchen cabinet
- which steam engine
- my uncle Skarloey
- whose cheeseburger meatloaf
- some green beans
- three blind mice
- all six of the Avengers
What is an adjective? Adjectives modify a nominal form such as a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun. Prototypical adjectives express three degrees of modification: positive, comparative, superlative. The following italicized words are adjectives:
- My oldest dog is something special.
- The most beautiful sound in the whole, wide world.
- Some big, burly men painted the barn red.
- She seems happier and healthier today.
- The pregnant polar bear eats a lot of fresh blubber.
- The old man broke a lovely, large, antique, round, black, Spanish, wooden*, mixing* bowl.
*Note that words such as wooden and mixing are participial adjectives, or adjectives formed from verbs that participate in both adjectival and verbal categories.
Determiners function as determinatives. Adjectives as noun phrase modifiers, subject complements, and object complements. Determiners are always constituents of a noun phrase. Adjectives can occur within noun phrases, but adjectives can also function as complements, specifically subject complements and object complements. In the examples above, determiners occur only in noun phrases. Adjectives, however, are not always constituents of noun phrases as in red in Some big, burly men painted the barn red, which functions as an object complement, and both happier and healthier in She seems happier and healthier today, which function as subject complements.
The word another is not an adjective. The question of the grammatical class of another arose as a result of a question about the comma in “Gigi wanted another, more fuel-efficient car.” I argue that the comma is unnecessary and creates an ungrammatical sentence. Removing the comma produces the grammatical Gigi wanted another more fuel-efficient car. The another is a determiner, specifically a quantifier. Quantifiers provide information about the quantity of a nominal form. Another is singular in number with evidence provided by the substitution of other singular determiners such a a and one: Gigi wanted a more fuel-efficient car and Gigi wanted one more fuel-efficient car. If the noun phrase another more fuel-efficient car functioned as a subject, the following verb would be singular: Another more fuel-efficient car is what Gigi wants. Furthermore, another lacks comparative and superlative forms. Both Gigi wanted *anotherer more fuel-efficient car and Gigi wanted *anotherest more fuel-efficient car are grammatically impossible in English. Without the comma, another is a determiner.
Syntactic tests allow us to determine the grammatical form of a word. For example, the word another cannot be a verb because another lack third person singular, simple past, present participle, and past participle forms. The forms *anothers, *anothered, *anothering, and *anotheren are not possible for the word another. The word thus fails the test for verb. The word is also not an adverb because of the lack of comparative and superlative forms: *more another and *most another. Like adjectives, prototypical adverbs can express three degrees of modification. Another is not a preposition because the word cannot take a complement: I went to the store but not *I went another the store. Another is not a conjunction because the word does not link two or more words, phrases, or clauses: I like cats but not dogs and *I like cats another not dogs.
Can another occur as an adjectival element in a string of coordinate adjectives? The short answer is no. Coordinate adjectives are adjectives that occur in sequence with one another to modify the same nominal form. The adjectives big and burly are coordinate adjectives in Some big, burly men painted the barn red. Both big and burly equally modify the noun men. The men painted the barn red. The men and big. The men are burly. The men are big and burly. The big, burly men painted the barn red. The word another cannot occur as function as one of a pair of coordinate adjectival elements because another is not an adjective.
Grammar education is severely lacking. Too many students grow up thinking that determiners are some sort of adjective. Many grammars leave out the term determiner altogether. Even dictionaries sometimes list determiners as adjectives. Determiners, however, fail syntactic tests for adjectives. Determiners cannot express degrees of modification. Determiners cannot function as subject complements or object complements. Determiners are always constituents of a noun phrase. Another cannot express three degrees of modification and is therefore not an adjective. Substituting another adjective for another also results in an ungrammatical construction.
The comma in *Gigi wanted another, more fuel-efficient car is erroneous. If we swap out another for an adjective such as little (which passes the syntactic tests for adjectives: little, littler, littlest), we are left with an ungrammatical construction: *Gigi wanted little, more fuel-efficient car. Although plural nouns and proper nouns can take the null determiner in English, the singular common noun car cannot. Gigi wanted little, more fuel-efficient cars is grammatical but *Gigi wanted little, more fuel-efficient car is not because the phrase little, more fuel-efficient car requires an explicit determiner. Gigi wanted a little, more fuel-efficient car. Gigi wanted another little, more fuel-efficient car.
The comma after another in *Gigi wanted another, more fuel-efficient car is furthermore erroneous because of the separation of the determiner from the noun phrase of which the determiner is a constituent. Replacing another with a different determiner illustrates the error:
- *Gigi wanted a, more fuel-efficient car.
- *Gigi wanted the, more fuel-efficient car.
- *Gigi wanted no, more fuel-efficient car.
Punctuation is a convention of writing that helps writers and readers more clearly understand written language. Inserting a comma after the determiner another results in an unclear and ungrammatical construction.
The need of an explicit determiner for the singular common noun car brings us to another problem with the comma in *Gigi wanted another, more fuel-efficient car. The word another can be a determiner. Another can also be a pronoun. A pronoun is a function word that takes the place of another nominal form. If Gigi wanted another more fuel-efficient car, we could say Gigi wanted another. The pronoun another takes a place of the noun phrase another more fuel-efficient car. Pronouns can perform many of the same functions as full noun phrases. Pronoun another can move into a subject position: Another is what Gigi wanted. Pronoun is a subcategory of noun. The syntactic test for noun includes grammatical number and possessive forms. Pronouns share some characteristics of nouns. Pronouns express grammatical number: Another is here but not *Another are here. Another can also show possession: My package arrived today; another’s will arrive tomorrow.
If we analyze another as a pronoun in *Gigi wanted another, more fuel-efficient car, the noun phrase that contains the singular common noun car more fuel-efficient car is still missing an explicit determiner. Gigi wanted another. Gigi wanted a more fuel-efficient car. Gigi wanted another, a more fuel-efficient car. The construction Gigi wanted more fuel-efficient car is not grammatically in English. Analyzing another as a pronoun means that the noun phrase fragment more fuel-efficient car is functioning as an appositive of the pronoun another.
- I saw the man in the yellow hat.
- I saw him.
- I saw him, the man in the yellow hat.
- Gigi wanted another more fuel-efficient car.
- Gigi wanted another.
- Gigi wanted another, another more fuel-efficient car.
- Gigi wanted a more fuel-efficient car.
- Gigi wanted another.
- Gigi wanted another, a more fuel-efficient car.
Placing the comma after another means that another is the direct object of the verb wanted. Adjectives and determiners cannot function as direct objects; only nominal forms like pronouns and noun phrases can. The construction after the comma functions as an appositive to provide more information about the pronoun another. What did Gigi want? Gigi wanted another. Gigi wanted another what? Gigi wanted another more fuel-efficient car. Without a determiner, the noun phrase more fuel-efficient car is incomplete and ungrammatical because the singular common noun car needs a determiner.
The comma in *Gigi wanted another, more fuel-efficient car makes the utterance ungrammatical in English. The word another can be a determiner or pronoun in form depending on the context. In another storm is coming, another is a determiner that provides non-attributive quantitative information about the noun storm. In another is coming, another is a pronoun that takes the place of the noun phrase another storm. The comma in *Gigi wanted another, more fuel-efficient car either (1) cuts the determiner another off from the rest of the noun phrase or (2) leaves the appositive of the pronoun another without an explicit determiner. In either construction, another is not a determiner.
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