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.

24 Sep 2006

Determiner vs. Determinative

Submitted by Karl Hagen
I suspect that most people would find arguments over grammatical terminology to be one of the more soporific topics for discussion. Even if you're interested in learning something about grammar, you probably don't really care about all the variations in terminology. Do we call it a main clause or an independent clause? Who cares? Most of the variations are actually inspired by theoretical concerns. The choice of a particular label can be significant to the extent that the label tells you something about the grammatical theory behind the label. For example, old-fashioned grammar books call a wide range of words (and phrases) "adjectives" when they appear in front of a noun, despite the fact that they have few formal resemblances to ordinary adjectives. In this scheme the, leather, and John's become equivalent to old when they appear before a word like wallet. This choice of terminology makes no distinction between form and function, and it encourages us to believe that these words actually change their parts of speech. More up-to-date grammar books do not lump all these words together into the same category because they distinguish form and function.
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.
Common nouns can be subdivided according to what determiners they permit. Nouns such as those in column (3) of the table above can be made plural with no determiner (as in cars), and they can take the indefinite article a/an (as in a car). Words that behave this way are typically regarded as referring to entities that are seen as individual, countable units, and hence they are known as count nouns. Count nouns can be either concrete items (computer, book, house, etc.) or abstract ideas (goal, belief, hope, etc.).

Nouns that behave like the one in column (4) are called mass nouns (or non-count nouns). They typically refer to things that are viewed as a mass rather than individual units, or which have no precise shape or boundary. Mass nouns also can be either concrete (milk, wool, spaghetti, etc.) or abstract (happiness, communism, integrity). They cannot usually be made plural (*two wools), nor do they take the indefinite article (*a wool). If we want to count mass nouns, we must add a count noun to specify the quantity (two glasses of milk).

The distinction between proper and common nouns is probably familiar to you from your earlier education. Fred and Netherlands are instances of proper nouns. A proper noun is a type of noun that refers to a specific person, place, or thing (Evelyn, Cairo, Saturday, etc.) Common nouns refer to classes of things (cat, trash, stone, etc.) rather than particular ones. All nouns that are not proper are common.
When we discussed intransitive verbs, we introduced the concept of an adjunct. Since these optional elements of the verb phrase play no role in deciding which verb pattern is used in a particular sentence, you don't need to worry about them while you're figuring out what pattern is used. In practical terms, this means you can disregard adverb phrases and prepositional phrases when determining the verb subtype.[1] (Note that we're not ignoring them entirely; we're just putting them aside temporarily while we figure out the basic pattern of the verb phrase.)[2]

Simply ignoring adverb phrases and prepositional phrases, however, will not be enough to allow us to distinguish all complements from all adjuncts. Under some conditions NPs and AdjPs can also be adjuncts. If we don't distinguish those adjuncts, we can misanalyze our sentences.

Different textbooks present different variations on the tree diagram, depending on the details of their analysis. The basic principles, however, remain constant, and if you understand them, you should be able to grasp the diagrams' essence no matter what the details. Tree diagrams are most often drawn above the item being diagrammed.[1] A tree consists of nodes. A node has a label, for example NP for noun phrase, VP for verb phrase, and so on.
Q. Please explain how to diagram a sentence.
A. First spread the sentence out on a clean, flat surface, such as an ironing board. Then, using a sharp pencil or X-Acto knife, locate the 'predicate,' which indicates where the action has taken place and is usually located directly behind the gills. For example, in the sentence: 'LaMont never would of bit a forest ranger,' the action probably took place in a forest. Thus your diagram would be shaped like a little tree with branches sticking out of it to indicate the locations of the various particles of speech, such as your gerunds, proverbs, adjutants, etc.
The following diagram above is not a sentence diagram. It shows how the different subtypes of verb relate to one another.

verb-type hierarchy

Here is a summary list of the five patterns we have learned, with the elements presented in linear order. This list is deliberately abstract. To see examples of sentences of these types, see the preceding sections:

1.Intransitive: subject + VI
2.Linking: subject + VL + subject complement
3.Transitive: subject + VT + direct object
4.Ditransitive: subject + VD + indirect object + direct object



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