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Gender and noun formation

Gender and noun formation

Gender and noun formation

Gender: masculine, feminine, personal, and neuter

Gender is not an important grammatical category in English: unlike many European languages, English has no masculine and feminine inflections for nouns or determiners. Yet semantically, gender is an interesting and controversial topic: for example, how do English speakers distinguish between male, female, and male-or-female reference? Gender is also an area where the language is changing. This section discusses how to signal the gender of nouns and pronouns.

Four semantic gender classes can be distinguished:

example nouns



Tom, a boy, the man

he, him, his


Sue, a girl, the woman

she, her, hers


a journalist, the doctor

who, someone


a house, the fish

it, what, which

Masculine nouns and pronouns refer primarily to male people.

Feminine nouns and pronouns refer primarily to female people.

Personal gender nouns and pronouns refer primarily to people, regardless of whether they are female or male.

Neuter gender nouns and pronouns refer primarily to inanimates (including abstractions).

However, there are special circumstances where the boundaries of these categories are fuzzy.

Masculine and feminine noun reference

There are four major ways of specifying masculine and feminine contrast in nouns:

using totally different nouns:

father-mother son-daughter uncle-aunt man-woman bull-cow

using derived nouns with masculine and feminine suffixes -er/or and -ess:

actor-actress waiter-waitress master-mistress

using a modifier, such as male, female; man, woman, women:

male nurse female officer woman doctor male dancer women priests

using nouns in -man, -woman:

chairman Englishman policewoman spokeswoman

(In writing, masculine nouns consisting of noun + man look like compounds, but in pronunciation, -man is more like a derivational suffix: it is pronounced /-mən/ in both the singular and the plural.)

The derivational endings -er/or and -ess are not of equal status. While -ess always has female reference, -er/or can be used for both sexes with personal gender words like doctor and teacher. Further, -ess can be added to a noun without -er/-or to form the female variant: lion-lioness; priest-priestess.

Feminine nouns in -ess are generally used less than their masculine counterparts, because we usually use the masculine form when we do not know which sex the individual is and for plurals when we may be referring to both males and females. The most common -ess nouns are princess, actress, mistress, duchess, waitress, countess, goddess, hostess, and stewardess. However, all these are used less than their masculine counterparts (prince, actor, master, duke, etc.).

Similarly, most English speakers and writers use words ending in -man far more than words ending in -woman. Even the most common words ending in -woman (spokeswoman, policewoman, chairwomen, businesswoman, congresswoman, horsewoman) are used far less than the corresponding words ending in -man (spokesman, policeman, etc.)

2 Gender bias in nouns

There are two reasons for the preference of male terms over female terms:

Speakers and writers refer to males more frequently than to females.

The masculine terms are often used to refer to both sexes. For example, the masculine nouns spokesman and manager are used in the following sentences to refer to women:

Eyeline spokesman Rosie Johnson said: 'We don't need a vast sum, but without it we'll be forced to close.'

Area manager Beth Robinson says: 'Our business in Finaghy has steadily increased year by year.'

Both these factors amount to a bias in favour of the masculine gender. With reference to the second factor, it is traditionally argued that a term like chairman or governor has personal gender (i.e. is sex-neutral) in addition to its masculine use. However, the fact that such roles have typically been taken by men means that these terms have strong masculine overtones.

In recent decades, efforts have been made to avoid masculine bias by using gender-neutral nouns in -person instead of -man or -woman. For example:

Mrs Ruddock said she had been nominated as spokesperson for the wives.

Salespersons by the thousands have been laid off in the recession.

However, this trend has had limited success so far. Words in -person (or their plurals in -persons or -people) are rare compared with the corresponding words in -man or -men. The only moderately common words of this kind are chairperson(s), spokesperson(s), salespeople, and townspeople. (Note that both -people and -persons are used in the plural.)

The formation of derived nouns

Derived nouns are formed from other words by means of affixation (prefixes and suffixes), conversion, and compounding.

1 Affixation

Derivational prefixes do not normally alter the word class of the base word; that is, a prefix is added to a noun to form a new noun with a different meaning:

base noun prefixed noun

patient outpatient (a patient who is not resident in a hospital)

group subgroup (a group which is part of a larger group)

trial retrial (another trial of the same person for the same crime)

Derivational suffixes, on the other hand, usually change both the meaning and the word class; that is, a suffix is often added to a verb or adjective to form a new noun with a different meaning:

base word suffixed noun

adjective: dark darkness

verb: agree agreement

noun: friend friendship

A Noun prefixes

The following list shows some of the more frequent prefixes, and indicates the typical meaning signaled by each prefix.

Prefix    main meaning(s) examples

anti- against, opposite to antibody, anticlimax

arch- supreme, most arch-enemy, archbishop

auto- self autobiography, autograph

bi- two    bicentenary, bilingualism

bio- of living things biochemistry, biomass

co- joint co-chairman, co-founder

counter- against    counteract counterclaim

dis- the opposite of disbelief, discomfort

ex- former    ex-Marxist, ex-student

fore- ahead, before forefront, foreknowledge

hyper- extreme    hyperinflation

in- inside, or the opposite of inpatient, inattention

inter- between, among interaction, intermarriage

kilo- a thousand kilobyte, kilowatt

mal-- bad    malfunction, malnutrition

mega- a million, supreme    megawatt, megastar

mini- small minibus, mini-publication

mis- bad, wrong misconduct, mismatch

mono- one monopoly, monosyllable

neo- new neomarxist, neo-colonialism

non- not    nonpayment, non-specialist

out- outside, separate outpatient, outbuilding

poly-    many polysyllable, polytheism

re- again, back re-election, re-organization

semi- half    semicircle, semi-darkness

sub-    below subgroup, subset

super- more than, above, large superhero, supermarket

tele- distant telephone, teleshopping

tri- three tricycle, tripartism

ultra- beyond ultrafilter, ultrasound

under- below, too little underclass, underachievement

vice- deputy (second in command) vice-chairman, vice-president

B Noun suffixes

Suffixes tend to have less specific meanings than prefixes. Grammatically speaking, their main role is to signal a change of word class, so that (for example) if you meet a word ending in -ism, -ness, or -tion, you can recognize it as a noun. However, some suffixes are ambiguous: e.g. -al and -ful can mark an adjective as well as a noun. Note that the process of derivation can bring a change in the pronunciation or spelling of the base word: for example, when we add -cy to infant, the whole word is spelt infancy, not *infantcy.

The symbols V, A, and N in the list below show whether the noun is derived from a verb, an adjective, or another noun. Those that are derived from verbs and adjectives are said to be nominalizations. Most derived nouns are abstract in meaning.

Suffix    main meaning(s) examples

-age (various meanings) baggage, wastage, postage, orphanage

-a/ action or instance of V-ing    arrival, burial, denial, proposal

-an, -ian nationality, language, etc. American, historian, Korean, Victorian

-ance, -ence action or state of V-ing, assistance, resemblance, experience

-ant, -ent a person who V-s, something    assistant, consultant, student, used for V-ing coolant, intoxicant, lubricant

-cy state or quality of being A/N    accuracy, adequacy, infancy, lunacy

-dom state of being A/N boredom, freedom, stardom, wisdom

-ee a person (various meanings) absentee, devotee, employee, trainee

-er, -or a person/thing that V-s,    actor, driver, filler, teacher, visitor a person connected with N footballer, cottager, New Yorker

-ery, -ry (various non-personal meanings)    bakery, bravery, refinery, robbery

-ese nationality or language Chinese, Japanese, journalese

-ess a female N actress, baroness, tigress, waitress

-ette a small N cigarette, kitchenette, novelette

-ful amount that fills a N handful, mouthful, spoonful

-hood state of being A/N childhood, falsehood, likelihood

-ician person concerned with N clinician, mathematician, physician

-ie, -y a pet name for N auntie, daddy, doggie, Johnny

-ing action/instance of V-ing,    feeling, meeting, reading, training

place or material building, crossing, landing, lining

-ism ideology, movement, tendency atheism, criticism, capitalism, Marxism

-ist follower of N/A-ism, specialist atheist, capitalist, racist, physicist

-ite citizen or follower of N Moabite, Muscovite, Thatcherite

ity state or quality of being A ability, activity, density, insanity

-let a small N    bomblet, booklet, leaflet, piglet

-ment action or instance of V-ing    argument, movement, statement,


-ness state or quality of being A blindness, darkness, fairness, happiness

-ship state or skill of being a N friendship, membership, relationship

-tion action or instance of V-ing    communication, education, production

-ure action or instance of V-ing    closure, departure, exposure, pressure

Apart from -er, the most frequent noun suffixes are all abstract: -tion, -ity, -ness, -ism, -ment. In general, these suffixes are far more frequent and productive in academic writing than in the other registers.

2 Conversion

Another way to derive nouns from other word classes is known as conversion (or 'zero derivation'). In this case, no affix is added to the base, but the base itself is converted into a different word class, usually from a verb or adjective into a noun.

Converted nouns

conversion from


meaning(s) of converted noun

example of converted noun

adjectives (A)


someone who is A

presidential hopefuls


someone who is A

they speak like the whites do in the South

something that is A

you could see the whites of his eyes

verbs (V)


act of V-ing

he took a brilliant catch <sport>

something that is V-ed

they had a fine catch of fish

something used for V-ing

he loosened the catch and

opened the window


someone who V-s

accused him of being a cheat


act of V-ing

we can go for a walk later

way of V-ing

the walk of a gentleman

place for V-ing

the walk stretched for 154 miles

3 Compounding

Another very productive process is the formation of compound nouns. Common patterns of compounding are the following (note that the parts of the compound can be written as a single word, or else hyphenated or written as two words):

structural pattern examples


noun + noun

barcode, bathroom, database, eye-witness, lamp post, logjam, newspaper, shell-fish, suitcase, wallpaper


noun + verb/noun

gunfire, handshake, home run, landslide, moonwalk


noun+ verb-er

dishwasher, dressmaker, eye-opener, firefighter, screwdriver


noun + verb-ing

fire-fighting, housekeeping, thanksgiving, window shopping


verb/noun + noun

cookbook, dipstick, playboy, swimsuit, volleyball


self + noun

self-control, self-esteem, self-help, self-indulgence, self-pity


verb-ing + noun

filing cabinet, filling station, mockingbird, printing-press

adjective + noun

bigwig, blackbird, grandmother, highway, real estate

verb + particle

checkout,    feedback, fly-over, go-between, handout, standby

particle + verb/noun

bystander, downturn, in-fighting, outfit, overcoat, upkeep

Noun + noun combinations are the most productive type of noun compound. In fact, Patterns 1a-g above can all be considered as special cases of noun + noun compounds. Noun compounds are especially common in news writing, where they help to pack a lot of information into a small space.


Determiners are function words used to specify the kind of reference a noun has. As the table below shows, determiners vary in the kind of noun head they occur with: the three classes in question are countable singular noun, countable plural noun, and uncountable noun.

How determiners combine with nouns

determiner type

countable nouns

uncountable nouns (singular)

singular nouns

plural nouns

zero article



indefinite article

a book

definite article

the book

the books

the milk


my/your book

my/your books

my/your milk


this book

these books

this milk

that book

those books

that milk


every I each book

all (the) books

all (the) milk

many books

much milk

some books

some milk

(a) few books

(a) little milk

enough books

enough milk

several books

either / neither book

both books

any book

any books

any milk

no book

no books

no milk


one book

two/three books

There are other determiners, not shown in this table: e.g. a lot of, and the wh-words what, which, and whose. The determiner slot can also be filled by genitives (e.g. Tanya's).

Sometimes more than one determiner occurs in the same noun phrase: e.g. all the books. In such cases, the determiners occur in a fixed order, and for this purpose we distinguish between central determiners (the most common type), predeterminers (which precede central determiners when both occur) and postdeterminers (which follow central determiners). These are shown in the following table.

How determiners combine with one another


central determiner






































The different slots for determiners are summarized in the following table:


central determiners

postdeterminers (slot 1)

postdeterminers (slot 2)

all, both, half


ordinal numerals

cardinal numerals

multipliers like double, twice

demonstrative determiners

semi-determiners like

same, other, next

quantifying determiners

possessive determiners

Determiner vs. noun

Collective, unit, quantifying, and species nouns behave in a similar way to quantifying determiners and semi-determiners like a few, a little, a lot of, and such. Like these determiners, expressions like a load of, a couple of, and a kind of qualify a following noun in terms of quantity or type. Compare:

We knew masses of people.

There're so many people in that place.

Similarly, this sort of food is equivalent in meaning to such food, except that sort of occurs more in speech, and such more in writing.

In some ways, it is the noun following of, rather than the quantifying noun, that behaves like the head of the noun phrase in these expressions.

Determiner vs. pronoun

There is also a strong parallel between the different types of determiner and the different types of pronoun. The main correspondences are shown in the following table. Pronouns lack the referential content provided by a noun head, and therefore they depend much more on context for their interpretation than determiners.

Classes of determiners and pronouns

determiner class

pronoun class

general name

the definite article: the

personal pronouns: you, he, she, it, etc.

possessive determiners: your, his, her, its, etc.

possessive pronouns: yours, his, hers, its, etc.


demonstrative determiners: this, that, these, those

demonstrative pronouns: this, that, these, those


quantifying determiners: all, some, any, no, etc.

indefinite pronouns: all, some, any, none, etc.


3 The articles

The most common determiners are the articles the and a/an, which signal definite and indefinite meaning. When no determiner occurs before the noun, it is useful to say that there is a zero article.

The definite article and the indefinite article both take a different spoken form when the word begins with a vowel:

a house, a UFO

n/ an apple, an hour* an MP

the house, the union

/ i/ the apple, the hour, the other day

Notice that spelling can be misleading: some words beginning with u have an initial consonant sound /ju:../, and a few words beginning with a 'silent' h have an initial vowel sound.) The spelling an is used when the following word begins with a vowel sound.

Articles are much less common in conversation than in writing. This is largely because conversation uses many pronouns, which generally do not need articles. In contrast, the written registers use many more nouns, resulting in many more articles.

Indefinite meanings expressed by a/an

The indefinite article a/an is used only with singular countable nouns. It narrows down the reference of the head noun to one indefinite member of the class.

A Specific use of a/an

The indefinite article is often used to introduce a new specific entity into the discourse:

1 A 12-year-old boy got mad at his parents Friday night because they refused to let him go fishing on the Colorado River with relatives. So, while his parents were distracted during a barbecue with eight adult friends, he slipped away from his sister and three brothers, snatched the keys to a Volkswagen Beetle and drove off in one of his parent's four cars, prompting fears that he had been kidnapped. El Cajon police sent teletype descriptions of the curly haired, 90-pound sixth-grader to law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California and the Arizona border area. The boy was found unharmed - but scared and sleepy - at about noon yesterday by San Diego County sheriffs deputies.

In 1, the indefinite article a (12-year-old boy) introduces a specific, but unnamed and unknown boy; afterwards the boy is referred to by pronouns (him, he) and definite noun phrases (the curly haired, 90-pound sixth-grader and the boy).

B Unspecific use of a/an

The indefinite article is also used where the noun phrase does not refer to any specific individual:

I'm looking for a millionaire, she says, but I don't see any around.

'I feel terrible. I need a friend.'

In 2 and 3, a millionaire and a friend are unspecific and mean 'any person of that kind'.

C Classifying or generic use of a/an

The indefinite article can also serve to classify an entity, as in 4, or to refer generically to what is typical of any member of the class, as in 5:

My husband is a doctor. <classifying>

A doctor is not better than his patient. <generic>

Generic reference is described below.

Indefinite meaning with the zero article

Like a/an with singular countable nouns, the zero article signals indefiniteness with uncountable nouns (1) and plural countable nouns (2):

We have wine on the table girls, drink it.

We have telephones and we talk to people.

The reference here is to an indefinite number or amount (often equivalent to some).

Zero article phrases commonly express non-specific or generic reference. But there are also some special uses of the zero article with singular countable nouns, where otherwise we expect the or a/an to occur.

A Meals as institutions

Are they going out for dinner or something?

Like a/an with singular countable nouns, the zero article signals indefiniteness with uncountable nouns (1) and plural countable nouns (2):

We have wine on the table girls, drink it.

We have telephones and we talk to people.

The reference here is to an indefinite number or amount (often equivalent to some).

B Places as institutions

The ceremony took place in church.

They are prepared to go to jail for their cause.

C Predicatives with unique reference

When a predicative noun phrase names a unique role or jobs either a zero article or the is used:

Lukman was re-elected OPEC president in November. <with zero article>

Simon Burns is the chairman of the appeal fund. <with the>

D Means of transport and communication

The zero article here is found mainly after the preposition by:

travel by air/car/horse/rail

send by mail/post/e-mail/satellite link

E Times of the day, days, months, and seasons

Tomorrow at dawn well begin our journey.

When winter comes in 12 weeks, they will freeze.

F Parallel structures

The zero article sometimes occurs in parallel structures like X and Y or from X to Y, where X and Y are identical or contrasting nouns:

He travelled from country to country.

Thankfully, it has turned out all right for mother and baby.

This broadly relates to communications between lawyer and client.

Examples of this kind are often fixed phrases, like eye to eye, face to face, from start to finish.

G Block language

The zero article is normal with noun phrases in block language, that is, abbreviated language used in newspaper headlines, labels, lists, notices (e.g. entrance, way out, etc.) Compare:

Fire kills teenager after hoax. <the headline>

A teenager died in a blaze at his home after firemen were diverted by a call that     turned out to be a student prank. <the news story following the headline>

Notice the headline uses the zero article for fire, teenager, and hoax, which are then mentioned in the news story as a blaze, a teenager, and a student prank.

H Vocatives

The zero article also occurs in forms of address (vocatives):

No hard feelings, Doctor.

Do you want that, baby?

With all these special uses of the zero article, it is worth noting that the same types of noun can occur with the definite article, when a more specific meaning is intended:

A Bye bye, dear, thanks for the lunch.

B The church serves a population of 18,000.

D She took the train to the campus.

The definite article the

The goes with both countable and uncountable nouns. It marks the noun as referring to something or someone assumed to be known to speaker and addressee (or writer and reader).

A Anaphoric use of the

After unknown entities have been introduced, they can be treated as 'known' and named by the in later references:

A 12-year-old boy got mad at his parents Friday night and drove off in one of his parent's four cars. El Cajon police sent teletype descriptions of the curly haired, 90-pound sixth-grader to law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California and the Arizona border area. The boy was found unharmed.

This is called anaphora: the phrase with the refers back to a previously mentioned item.

B Indirect anaphoric use of the

In indirect anaphora, the earlier noun is not repeated, but an associated noun is used with the:

The Mercedes took a hard bounce from a pothole. 'Christ,' said Sherman, I didn't even see that.' He leaned forward over the steering wheel. The headlights shot across the concrete columns in a delirium.

We know that cars have a steering wheel and headlights, so after the Mercedes has been mentioned, 'the steering wheel' and 'the headlights' can be treated as known.

C Use of the with synonyms

Sometimes, indirect anaphora involves the use of a different noun referring to the same thing or person:

He found her blue Ford Escort in the car park. The vehicle was locked and the lights were off.

We know that the Ford Escort is a vehicle, and so 'the vehicle' can be treated as known. A second example is the shift from a 12-year-old boy to the curly haired, 90-pound sixth-grader in 1 above.

D Cataphoric use of the

Cataphora can be thought of as the opposite of anaphora. Here definite reference is established by something following later in the text, especially some modifier (marked [ ] here) of the noun:

4 Another potential voter starts to tell them about the car [that went through his garden wall].

5 Emerson admitted that he felt like quitting for the rest [of the season].

In 4 the defining postmodifier is a relative clause; in 5 it is an of- phrase.

E Situational use of the

The often occurs because an entity is known from the situation: either the immediate situation in which speech takes place, or the wider situation which includes knowledge of the national situation, the world, or even the universe.

/ think there's somebody at the door now. <immediate situation>

They get money off the government, don't they? <wider situation>

Sometimes a speaker assumes situational knowledge that the hearer does not have, and so has to clarify the reference:

A: Could you get me from the shelf the black felt pen?
B: Which shelf?

A: The big one.

F Other uses of the

The above are the major uses of the definite article, but definiteness depends on assumed shared knowledge in the minds of speaker and addressee, so some uses of the are more difficult to explain:

9 A woman and a child had a narrow escape yesterday when their car left the road. The accident happened at about 9.25 am at Marks Tey, near Colchester.

Here the reader has to infer that the event described in the first sentence is an accident This type of usage is similar to indirect anaphora, except that we cannot point to a particular noun, like Mercedes in 2 above, which explains the later use of the headlights, etc.

Also, some uses of the are idiomatic, as part of a fixed phrase: e.g. in the main, by the way, at the end of the day, etc.

Finally, the can be used for generic reference, as in He plays the trumpet.

To conclude:

Situational the is common only in conversation, where speakers rely on the context that they share with hearers.

Anaphoric the is common in all registers.

Cataphoric the is heavily concentrated in non-fiction writing; it is associated with complex noun phrases.

Generic reference

Reference is generic when a noun phrase refers to the whole class, rather than just one or more instances of the class. In English all three articles (a/an, the, and zero) can be used for generic reference:

indefinite article: A doctor is not better than his patient.

zero article: Doctors are not better than their patients.

definite article: The doctor is not better than his patient.

All three of these sentences can be understood to express a general truth about the class of people called doctors (although the last example could also be about a particular doctor).

A/an is used generically with singular countable nouns, and designates 'any person or thing of the class'.

The zero article is used generically with plural and uncountable nouns, and refers to the class as a whole:

They're very nice, cats are.

Beer is, quite rightly, Britain's favourite Friday night drink.

In general, the is used generically only with singular countable nouns:

The trumpet is a particularly valuable instrument for the contemporary composer.

Comprehension depends on the reader's ability to remember all the words in the sentence.

Other determiners

There are several other subclasses of determiners.

Possessive determiners

Possessive determiners specify the noun phrase by relating it to the speaker/ writer or other entities. The possessive determiners correspond to personal pronouns:

possessive determiner my our your his her its their

personal pronoun / we    you he she it they

Possessive determiners make noun phrases definite:

My brain was scarcely working at all.

She didn't want to spoil her shoes.

Never hit your younger sister.

For example, her shoes in 2 refers to the shoes belonging to the specific woman, and not anyone else.

2 Demonstrative determiners

The demonstrative determiners this/these and that/those are similar to the definite article the in conveying definite meaning. However, they also specify whether the referent is singular or plural (this vs. these) and whether the referent is 'near' or 'distant' in relation to the speaker:


uncountable singular





this book

that book

these books those books

this money

that money

In general, this/these are about twice as common as that/those. By far the highest frequency of this/these is in academic writing, where these forms are useful especially for anaphoric reference.

Like the, the demonstrative determiners can make the reference clear either by pointing to the situation (situational reference), or by referring to the neighbouring text-either preceding (anaphoric reference) or following (cataphoric reference).

A Situational reference

Situational reference is very common in conversation, where the choice between this/these and that/those reflects the speaker's perception of whether the referent is near or distant:

This cake's lovely. <the speaker is eating the cake>

Look at that man sitting there. <the man is sitting some distance away>

The choice of determiner can also reflect emotional distance: this/these can express greater sympathy than that/those:

You know I actually quite like this chap.

A: They're still holding those guys? We should have just bombed them hard right then. As soon as they tried to pull that hostage move.

B: Those bastards.<note: bastards is a taboo word and may be offensive to some people>

B Time reference

Although the basic situational use of demonstratives is in reference to place (compare here/there), another kind of situational use refers to time (compare now/then):

They're buying a house this year in France. <the present year>

They started at nursery that summer. <a summer in the past>

C Anaphoric reference

In writing, demonstratives typically refer back to the preceding text:

In 1882 H. Weber gave [a set of postulates for abstract groups of finite order]. These postulates are essentially those in use today.

In this example, these postulates in the second sentence refers back to a set of postulates in the first sentence.

D Cataphoric reference

Like cataphoric the, cataphoric that and those are used where a modifier following the head specifies the reference of the head noun. In these examples, the modifier is a relative clause, marked by [ ]:

The unit of heat was defined as that quantity [which would raise the temperature of unit mass of water.

We apologise to those readers [who did not receive the Guardian on Saturday]

Here that and those are formal in style, and do not express 'distant' meaning, They could be replaced by the.

E Introductory this/these

There is a special conversational use of this/these to introduce a new entity into a narrative:

We went to this mall where there was this French restaurant.

4.3 Quantifying determiners (quantifiers)

Some determiners specify nouns in terms of quantity or amount and are therefore called quantifying determiners (or simply quantifiers):

with uncountable nouns with countable nouns

all money all girls

much money    many girls

(Quantifying pronouns are related forms with similar meanings.)

Quantifiers can be broadly divided into four types:

A Inclusive

Some inclusive quantifiers are: all, both, each, every. All refers to the whole of a group or mass; both refers to two entities, and goes with a plural noun:

The testing of all hens will continue to be compulsory.

Both amendments were defeated.

Each and every refer to all the individual members of a group but, in contrast to all combine only with singular countable nouns. Each stresses the separate individual, every stresses the individual as a member of the group. Each can denote two or more, while every denotes three or more.

We have two stations, but two people can work at each station.

Every minute of every day, hundreds of millions of tonnes of coal are burned.

B Large quantity

Many and much denote a large quantity: many with plural countable nouns, and much with uncountable nouns. They are used especially with negatives, interrogatives, and some combinations such as very much/many, so many/ much, too many/much, a great many, a good many:

There weren't many people there.

There are so many other girls wearing exactly the same thing.

The girl wasn't paying much attention.

Other determiners signifying a large amount are multi-word units, like a lot of, lots of, plenty of, a great/good deal of. A lot of and lots of often replace much and many in casual speech:

There were lots of people going through the tills.

'He's had a lot of trouble.'

In fact, much and many would be odd in these informal contexts.

C Moderate or small quantity

Some usually denotes a moderate quantity and is used with countable and uncountable nouns:

Insurance shares produced some excitement.

Some performance curves will now be presented.

Determiners denoting a small quantity are:

plural countable    uncountable

a small number/amount a few, several a little, a bit of

less than expected few (fewer, fewest) little (less, least)

A few and a little are used to indicate a small amount:

With a little care he had no difficulty whatever in putting his glass back on the table.

There were a few people sitting at the tables in the back.

Few and little (without a) mean 'not many' and 'not much'.

Very few women have hair that's that short.

That's why I dislike plans because so much time is spent planning and so little time is spent doing anything.

D An arbitrary or negative individual or amount

Any denotes an arbitrary member of a group, or an arbitrary amount of a mass. Either has a similar meaning, but it is used to denote a member of a group of two, and occurs only with singular countable nouns:

There aren't any women.

Got any money?

There were no applications for bail for either defendant.

As these examples suggest, any and either usually occur with negatives or questions. On the other hand, no and neither have a purely negative meaning: no is used for countables as well as uncountables, and neither is used for a choice of two:

Next time there would be no mercy.

Neither method is entirely satisfactory. <comparing two methods>

There will be more to say about the relations between some, any, and no, and between either and neither, under the headings of negation, and assertive and non-assertive forms.

4 Numerals as determiners

Cardinal numerals (like two) are similar to quantifiers, while ordinal numerals (like second) are similar to the semi-determiners. Like most quantifiers, numerals can occur in determiner position or in head position in a noun phrase:

You owe me ten bucks, Mary.

Tomorrow I have to get up at seven.

When the two types occur together in one noun phrase, ordinal numerals normally precede cardinal numerals:

The first three pages were stuck together with the young man's blood.

Notice also that the numerals can follow the definite article - in fact this is normal with ordinal numerals.

The alphabetic form (five, twenty, etc.) is most common with numbers under ten, and with round numbers such as a hundred. The digital form (5, 20, etc.) is more common with higher numbers:

Last year, 767 works were sold to 410 people in four days.

Ordinal numbers, however, are more commonly written with the alphabetic form (fifteenth rather than 15th).

5 Semi-determiners

In addition to the determiners so far mentioned, words like same, other, another, last, and such have some adjective characteristics and some determiner characteristics. These forms lack the descriptive meaning that characterizes most adjectives, and like most determiners, they can also double as pronouns. We call these words semi-determiners:

The same person was there with almost exactly the same message.

I saw how one fist beat into the palm of the other hand behind his back.

He's living with her and another girl, and another boy.

/ would like to think that this is not his last Olympics.

Such functions are not symmetrical.


Wh-determiners are used to introduce interrogative clauses (1) and relative clauses

Which way are we going?

I had a girl whose dog was the bridesmaid.

These will be illustrated further in discussing interrogative clauses and relative clauses.

To conclude:

The most common determiners are the definite and indefinite articles (the and a/an).

There is also a zero article, used with plural or uncountable nouns for indefinite meaning.

All three articles can be used to express generic meaning (referring to a class as a whole).

Predeterminers precede determiners in a noun phrase; postdeterminers follow determiners.

Possessive and demonstrative determiners are definite in meaning (like the), whereas quantifying determiners are indefinite in meaning (like a/an).

Numerals (cardinal and ordinal numbers) are grammatically like a class of determiners.

Quantifying determiners and quantifying pronouns usually have the same form (e.g. all, few). We call both of them quantifiers.

Semi-determiners, such as (the) same and another have characteristics of both determiners and adjectives.

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