Secondary Categories

The remaining categories are called secondary not because they are unimportant but because they have many fewer members than the primary categories. There are tens of thousands of words in the primary categories (with the exception of prepositions) but only a handful of words in the remaining categories.


Determiners are words that appear before nouns and specify ideas such as definiteness, quantity. Traditional grammar books often lump determiners in with adjectives and pronouns, but we will treat them as a primary category. Determiners play an important role in noun phrases. For now we merely list the most common determiners. We will return to them in more detail when we look at NP structure.


The definite article, the, is used to introduce something that can be identified uniquely within the context of the utterance or of general knowledge. For that reason, the is typically used for "old" information. If I say "bring the chair," I assume you already know which chair I'm talking about.

The indefinite article, a/an is used for situations were the reference is not uniquely identifiable. If I say "bring a chair", I don't have any particular chair in mind.


The demonstratives are this, that, these, and those. Like definite articles, they refer to old information. But they also point to specific things: this book or those children.[1] That "pointing" establishes a relative spatial relationship, which is reflected in the contrast between this/these, used for items that are close to the speaker, and that/those, used for items that are further away from the speaker, relatively speaking.


Many determiners express a notion of quantification. That is they specify how much or how many of the head noun there are. Here's a list of some common quantifiers:

all any both each
either enough every few
fewer less little many
more most much neither
no none several some
sufficient what whatever which



One kind of determiner that deserves separate attention is the numeral.[2] Numerals appear in one of two forms: cardinal (one, two, three, etc.) and ordinal (first, second, third, etc.). When numerals appear in front of a noun in order to quantify it (two birds, four cats, etc.) they are determiners. Numerals can also appear as independent nouns in their own right. We will return to this point when we examine the structure of noun phrases.


[1] The technical term for this pointing function is deixis.

[2] We use the term "numeral" in order to distinguish from linguistic number (singular/plural).

Coordinators and Subordinators

Traditional grammars typically have a category called the conjunction and distinguish between coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions. In point of fact, these two classes of words do not behave the same way at all, and so there is no good reason to think they are subtypes of a larger category. For that reason, we will treat these words as belonging to separate categories.


Coordinators are words that join grammatically equal units together. The principal coordinators are and, but, or, and nor.


Words whose function is to establish an unequal grammatical relationship, (e.g., that, for, to, whether, if).

(27) She asked me whether it was raining

Most subordinators can also function as other parts of speech: for and to can be prepositions, that can be a determiner, etc.), and so we will return to look at subordinators, and how to dintinguish them from other parts of speech, more closely in later chapters.



Interjections are words like oh, hey, ouch, or aha. They stand apart from other parts of speech in that they do not combine with other words in larger syntactic structures. Their primary function is to express feeling rather than to make a proposition about something. Some words—particularly curses like damn—are primarily verbs but can function as interjections: (28) Damn, I'm late for work again.