a constituent with the feature composition: [+N, +V, F] modifying nouns, e.g. mad in mad cow. These constituents cannot have nominal complements, their semantically nominal complement must appear as a Prepositional Phrase with the rescue strategy of of-insertion.


a structure is ambiguous if it can be interpreted in more than one way. We differentiate lexical ambiguity from structural ambiguity.

central determiner

traditionally these are determiners following pre-determiners and preceding post-determiners. In GB central determiners occupy the head position of DP this way defining the definiteness of the phrase (e.g. a man/the man)

comparative form of adjectives

this form is used for comparison to a higher (or in the case of less lower) degree when two constituents are compared: He is taller than I am. This sentence contains inflectional comparative, but there is another, periphrastic way of comparison: This car is more expensive than that one.

complementary distribution

two constituents are in complementary distribution if one of them never appears in any of the environments where the other appears. If two constituents are in complementary distribution it indicates that they compete for the same structural position. E.g. we cannot have both an inflectional ending and a modal auxiliary in the same clause as these two occupy the head position within an IP, thus the ungrammaticality of *She can dances.

count noun

a noun that shows number distinction, e.g. one book/two books.

definite determiner

a determiner like the or this that turns a nominal expression into a definite DP.


a category expressing whether a nominal expression is identifiable or not. In the sentences A man was walking in the park with a dog. The man sat on a bench and the dog ran away first we have indefinite individuals but in the second sentence they can already be identified from the context. Identification can also come from the situation or our knowledge of the world (the Sun).

degree adverb

a subclass of adverbs which specifies the degree to which some property applies, e.g. very and extremely. Feature composition: [+F, +N, +V]


the head of a Determiner Phrase, a closed class item taking an NP complement defining its definiteness. Feature composition: [+F, N, +V]

indefinite determiner

a determiner like a or some turning a nominal expression into an indefinite DP.


(a) a morpheme added to the end of words of a given category in sentence structure as required by the given structure, e.g. s in Peter like s his dog or er in Peter is clever er than Tony.

(b) the head of an Inflectional Phrase. It can be realised as a modal auxiliary or a zero agreement morpheme. Information about tense can be found in a separate vP directly under IP.

intransitive verb

a verb without a nominal complement (the object), e.g. ski. Its subject is either an agent or an experiencer, i.e. one of the theta-roles assigned to the specifier of a vP. Occasionally intransitive verbs appear with a cognate object.

lexical entry

a collection of the idiosyncratic properties of lexical items.

mass noun

a noun that does not show number distinction, e.g. tea/a cup of tea. See also partitive construction.


a contrast between singular and plural as in a shirt/several shirts. The English regular plural marker is s.


traditionally it is a determiner following a central determiner but within the framework of Government and Binding Theory it can be claimed that it is actually an AP that acts to quantify over a noun, and occupies the specifier position of NPs, e.g. many, few.


those DPs that cannot have a binder within the binding domain. See also anaphor.


a DP that usually refers to another DP, but contains only the grammatical features (number, person, gender) of it (I, you, he, she, etc.). Its interpretation depends on linguistic factors or the situation. Within the DP pronouns occupy the D head position, as they cannot be modified by determiners even on very special readings (as opposed to grammaticality of the John I met yesterday)


a determiner that expresses a definite or indefinite amount or number of the nominal expression it modifies, e.g. all, both, some, many, four.


a nominal expression is specific if the speaker knows the identity of its reference. The sentence I am looking for a pen is ambiguous between a specific and a non-specific interpretation: the pen may be a certain pen the speaker has in mind or any pen may do.

subcategorisation frame

that part of the lexical entry that states the categorial status of the complement.

superlative form of adjectives

comparison to a higher (or in the case of least lower) degree when there are more than two agents involved: He is the tallest of us. The periphrastic way of forming the superlative is with the help of most: He is the most sophisticated man I have ever met.


that part of a predicates lexical entry which informs us about what theta-roles the predicate has.


an element appearing in front of the subject with a special interpretation (something like as far as topic is concerned). Topics have either already been mentioned before in a conversation or can be interpreted as easily accessible due to the context.

Basic English Syntax with Exercises Determiners

The functional category that is most closely associated with nouns are the determiners which always precede nominal elements:

(148)athe party
ba snake
cthis idea of yours
dwhich friend of mine

Determiners may contribute to the interpretation of the nominal in terms of the notion of definiteness. This has a number of roles to play in interpreting a sentence. One of these has to do with how we introduce new items into a discourse and how we maintain a discourse topic. Consider the short monologue below:

(149)A man walked into a shop. The shopkeeper greeted the man.

In the first sentence, we introduce the main aspects of the story: the man and the shop situation. In this sentence the two nouns man and shop are preceded by the determiner a. This is the indefinite article and one of its functions is to signal new information that has not been mentioned previously. In the next sentence we have two more nouns shopkeeper and man (again). This time they are preceded by the determiner the, which is the definite article. Its function is to indicate information which has already been given and, therefore, to connect a series of sentences as being about the same thing. Thus, the shopkeeper is assumed to be the shopkeeper of the shop mentioned in the previous sentence, not another one round the corner, and the man is assumed to be the one who we have just been informed has walked into the shop, not one who was already in the shop, for example.

Determiners are also involved in the interpretation of nouns with respect to specificity. Compare the following:

(150)aI was looking for the cat
bI was looking for a cat

In the first sentence there is a specific cat that I am looking for, and the speaker obviously assumes the person who is addressed knows which specific cat he is talking about. The second sentence is, however, ambiguous. It could either mean that the speaker was looking for a specific cat, but assumed that the addressee does not know which cat is referred to, or it could mean that the speaker is looking for some non-specified cat and that any cat would satisfy the conditions of his search.

In English there are a number of syntactic phenomena that seem to be determined by the notion of definiteness. For example, only indefinite nominals can go in the post-verbal position in sentences which start with there:

(151)athere once lived an old woodcutter
b*there once lived the old woodcutter

Determiners are often marked for number. So, a, this and that are singular whilst these and those are plural, only introducing nouns with the relevant number:

(152)aa boy/*boys
bthese girls/*girl

With mass nouns, for which number is not applicable, we can have neither singular nor plural determiners (unless we treat the mass noun as a count noun, referring to types or groups of the material that the noun refers to see the discussion in section 2.1.3.):

(153)a*a sand
b*these sand

The definite determiner the can be used in either singular or plural contexts and even those unmarked for number, when used with mass nouns:

(154)athe boy
bthe boys
cthe water

A related concept to number is quantity and determiners often act as quantifiers for the nouns they introduce:

(155)asome people
ball newspapers
cboth parties
devery student

These quantificational determiners are also often marked for number, introducing only certain types of noun:

(156)singular pluralmass

They are also marked for definiteness and so may or may not introduce nouns sitting in the post-verbal position in there sentences:

(157)athere arrived some letters
bthere appeared many djinn
c*there sat all footballers

Not all quantificational elements are determiners, however. Some quantifiers might at first appear to be determiners, but the observation that they are not in complementary distribution with determiners challenges this assumption:

(158)amany problems(the many problems)
bfew ideas(these few ideas)
cseveral inaccuracies(the several inaccuracies)

Traditionally this group of quantifiers are known as post-determiners as they always follow other determiners (which are sometimes called central determiners). This terminology gives the impression that post-determiners are a subclass of determiner, which is likely to be inaccurate. These elements often have many adjectival qualities, including being able to be modified by degree adverbs and having comparative and superlative forms:

(159)avery many buildingsmore buildingsmost buildings
bso few typosfewer typosfewest typos
c?very less money?the lesser moneythe least money

For these reasons we will consider these elements as adjectival and will put off their discussion until a later section.

Pronouns might also be argued to be determiners. Certain determiners can be used straightforwardly as pronouns:

(160)aI like this hatI like this
bId like some cakeId like some

Moreover, some pronouns can be used as determiners:

(161)awe three kings
byou fool
cthem dandelions(dialectal)

Also, pronouns and determiners are in total complementary distribution:

(162)athe man
c*the him

While certain nouns tend not to appear with determiners either, suggesting that pronouns might be analysed as one of these kinds of noun, the fact is that all nouns can appear with determiners under the right circumstances:

(163)ahes not the Peter she married
bI met a Peter the other day

However, there are no circumstances that a pronoun can appear with a determiner:

(164)a*hes not the him she married
b*I met a him the other day

Like the inflections, the lexical properties of determiners are relatively simple. They have no theta grid and they subcategorise only for nominal complements. If pronouns are determiners, then in their pronominal use they can be considered as intransitive, taking no complement:

(165)thecategory:[+F, +N, V]
acategory:[+F, +N, V]
thiscategory:[+F, +N, V]
hecategory:[+F, +N, V]

In these lexical entries, the and a are indicated to be determiners that have an obligatory nominal complement, while this has an optional complement and he has no complement. Thus this may be used as a pronoun (i.e. a determiner used without a nominal complement) and he is always used as a pronoun.