Thursday, August 14, 2008

The English determinatives

I seem to write about determinatives on this blog more than one might expect. It occurs to me that I've probably never been explicit about what a determinative is. Although the description in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language isn't completely satisfactory, it's the best I've seen and certainly better than what I could come up with.

If all you want is a list, here you are. English has only a small number of standard modern English determinatives. The following is, I believe, a complete list. The items marked with an asterisk also exist as members of other categories. For example, little is usually an adjective, and the numerals are also nouns.
  • a
  • a few
  • a little
  • all*
  • an
  • another
  • any
  • both
  • certain*
  • each
  • either
  • enough
  • every
  • few
  • fewer
  • fewest
  • least*
  • less*
  • little*
  • many
  • more*
  • most*
  • much
  • neither
  • no*
  • none
  • said*
  • several*
  • some
  • such* (Added later in response to Rick S's comment, but see Brett's comment below)
  • sufficient*
  • that
  • the
  • these
  • this
  • those
  • us*
  • we*
  • what*
  • whatever*
  • whatsoever*
  • which
  • whichever
  • you*
  • (all numerals)*
Finally, the combinations every/some/any/no + body/one/thing/where (e.g., everybody) are compound determinatives, not pronouns.


Brett said...

Just a comment for the search engines, humans may ignore:
a list of determinatives
a list of determiners
a list of English determinatives
a list of English determiners

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't such be in that list?

Brett said...

Yes, there is a very minor case in which such is a determinative rather than an adjective. The CGEL gives the following example.:

Completion of the transaction will take place on 21 December 1999 or [such other date as the parties may agree].

The following uses, however, are adjectives:

It was [such a disaster].
She had shown [such promise].

Anonymous said...

What about usages like Such men are to be commended or Such problems make this proposal impractical? Those "feel" like determinative uses to me, but I haven't known about determinatives for long so my subconscious parser may need tuning.

BTW, you need an asterisk after such in your list, if I'm not mistaken.

Brett said...

Asterisk added. Thanks!

The such in Rick's example is an adjective. One can add a determiative, such as many in front of it. It can even follow another adjective as in a single such species.

Warsaw Will said...

Have you written anywhere on the precise difference between a determinative and a determiner, if there is indeed any?

I know your position on possessives, but what about general ordinals like next and last?

Brett said...

For many people, determiner is a catchall word, poorly defined. It seems to be a hybrid between a category of words (like noun, adjective, verb, etc.) and a function (like subject, complement, modifier, etc.). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language uses determinative for the category of words (listed here) and determiner for the function, which is normally performed by these words, but which is also commonly performed by genitive NPs and occasionally other types of constituents.