Tema 40- El sustantivo: los determinantes y modificadores

Tema 40- El sustantivo: los determinantes y modificadores


The kind of reference a noun phrase has depends on the accompanying determiner.

We distinguish 3 classes of determiners, set up on the basis of their position in the noun phrase in relation to each other

  1. Central determiners (the, a this)
  2. Predeterminers (half, all, double)
  3. Postdeterminers (seven, many, few)

  1. Central determiners:

The, a and zero: The definite and indefinite articles are the commonest central determiners. Their distribution is dependent upon the class of the accompanying noun.


We have the definite article the and the 2 indefinite articles a and zero, the former occurring with sing count nouns, its zero analogue with noncount and plural count nouns.

Both the and a have a different form when the following word begins with a vowel, though “the” doesn´t display the difference in writing:

The bird /đƏ/ – the owl /đi:/

A bird /Ə/ – an owl /Ən/

When the articles are stressed for any reason, they are pronounced /đi:/, /ei/, /aen/

A. Like the definite article there are several other determiners that can cooccur equally with sing count, plural count and noncount nouns

1) The demonstratives this and that (with noncount and sing count nouns), these and those (with plural count nouns).

– I prefer this picture to that (picture)

2) The possessives my, our, your, his, her, its, their

– I admire her house

3) The wh- determiners, which, whose, whichever, whatever, whosever as relatives, indefinite relatives or interrogatives

– Which house do you prefer?

4) The negative determiner no

– He has no car

B. Like the indefinite article there are determiners that cooccur only with sing. count nouns

1) The universal determiners: every and each

– We need to interview every/each student separately

2) The non-assertive dual determiner: either

– There is no parking permitted on either side of the street

3) The negative dual determiner: neither

– Parking is permitted on neither side of the street

C. Like the zero article, there are determiners that cooccur only with noncount nouns and plural count nouns

1) The general assertive determiner: some

– I would like some bread, please

2) The general nonassertive determiner: any

– We haven´ t any bread left

3) The quantitative determiner: enough

– We have enough tools for the job

  1. Predeterminers:

Predeterminers form a class in generally being mutually exclusive, preceding those central determiners with which they can cooccur and in having to do with quantification. There are 2 subsets: All, both, half and the multipliers.

    1. All, both, half: They have in common the positive characteristic of being able to occur before the articles, the demonstratives and the possessives


They also have the negative characteristic of not occurring before determiners that themselves entail quantification: every, each, (n)either, some, any, no, enough.

All occurs with plural count nouns and with noncount nouns

– All the books/ All books

– All the music / All music

Both occurs with plural count nouns

– Both the books/ both books

Half occurs with sing and plural count nouns and with noncount nouns

– Half the book(s)

– Half a book

– Half the music

As well as being predeterminers, all, both and half can be used pronominally

– Half the students sat for their exam but half failed

They can also de followed by an of-phrase

– All/Both/Half of the students

    1. The multipliers: have 2 uses as predeterminers,

1. When the following determiner is the definite article, demonstrative or possessive, the multipliers applies to the noun so determined

– Twice the lenght

2. When the following determiner is the indefinite article, or each or every, the multipliers applies to a measure set against the unit specified by the following noun.

– Once a day

  1. Postdeterminers:

They take their place immediately after determiners just as predeterminers take their place immediately before determiners.

– The two young women were successful

Postdeterminers fall into 2 classes:

A. Ordinals such as first, fourth, last, other

B. Quantifiers such as seven, ninety, many, few, a lot

Where they can cooccur, items from a) usually precede items from b)

– The first 2 poems

Among the b) items there are 2 important distinctions involving few and little:

  1. Few occurs only with plural count nouns, little only with noncount nouns
  2. When preceded by “a”, each has a positive meaning, without “a”, each has a negative meaning

– I play a few games (several)

– I play few games (hardly any)

– She ate a little bread (some)

– She ate little bread (hardly any)

The articles in specific reference:

  1. The definite article:

The article “the” marks a noun phrase as definite, that is, as referring to something which can be identified uniquely in the contextual or general knowledge shared by speaker and hearer.

  1. Where the use of “the” depends on shared knowledge of the world, we may speak of situational reference and this is of 2 kinds:

a) “the” used in connection with the immediate situation

– Do you see the bird sitting on the lower branch?

I this case the identity of the particular bird and branch is obvious because they are physically present and visible

b) Large situation, where identification of the reference depends on assumptions about general knowledge

– In the dark one has no idea of what the countryside looks like

Special cases of the larger situation occur with the use of “the” for sporadic reference and reference to the body:

I. In sporadic reference we don´ t refer to a particular thing

– I won´ t come by car. I´ ll take the train

II. With reference to parts of the body, the is often used in prepositional phrases instead of a possessive such as my or her:

– I grabbed him by the arm

2. The use of “the” may be determined by logical and grammatical factors. The uniqueness of a referent may be recognized not by general knowledge of the world but be logically imposed by meaning. Nouns premodified by superlatives, ordinals and similar restrictive items will be made logically unique:

– She was the sole survivor

Grammatical determination is of 2 kinds:

a)Anaphoric reference: where “the” indicates identity of reference with that established earlier in the discourse

– Fred bought a radio and a video-recorder, but he returned the radio.

b) Cataphoric reference: where “the” indicates that the identity of the reference will be established by what follows

– I´ m trying to find the book that I wanted to show you

  1. The indefinite article:

In contrast to the, an indefinite article is used when a reference cannot be regarded as uniquely identifiable from the shared knowledge of speaker and addressee.

– I am just about to move into an apartment quite near where you live

The indefinite article is commonly associated with “first mention” of an item which anaphoric “the” would be used in “subsequent mention”

– She lost a camera, a radio and a purse, though fortunately the purse contained very little money and the camera was insured

  1. The zero article:

A. Zero article and some/any: With noncount and plural count nouns, the role of indefinite article is fulfilled by either zero or where quantification is to be expressed some or any. We must not confound this general use of zero with the generic use.

– Quantitative: Some coffee will calm this nervousness of yours.

– General: Coffee can be bought almost anywhere

– Generic: Coffee is a common stimulant

B. Zero article with definite meaning: The zero article can be used in ways that closely resemble the definite article

– As (the) chairman, I must rule you out of order

This is when a phrase specifies a unique role or task. In this case, the parenthesised “the” could be present or absent with very little difference of meaning.

Analogous to the use of “the” with sporadic reference, we have zero with implication of definite rather than indefinite meaning. This is so with idiomatically institutionalised expressions relating to common experience:

1) Quasi-locatives:

– Be in/go to town bed, church, prison

– Be at/ go home

– Go to sea, college, school

2) Transport and communication: when by precedes the mode in question, zero occurs

– Travel/ come /go by bicycle, bus, train, car, plane, ferry

– Send it by telex, post, mail, satellite, fax

3) Time expressions: zero is common especially after the prepositions at, by, after, before

– At dawn/night

– By day /night

– After dark/nightfall

– Before dawn/dusk

4) Meals as with seasons: zero is usual unless reference is being made to a particular one

5) Illness: zero is normal, especially where the illness bears a technical medical name.

Fixed phrases: Fixity is notable with some common prepositional phrases and complex prepositions: by heart, on foot, in case of, out of step. Zero is characteristic of binomial expressions used adverbially: hand in hand, mile after mile, day in day out, eye to eye.

Article usage with abstract nouns:

Abstract nouns tend ¡to be count when they refer to unitary phenomena such as events and noncount when they refer to activities, states, qualities. But some nouns can be both noncount and count

– She is studying European history

– The country has a troubled history

The effect of the indefinite article is partitive and it can be qualitative (a troubled history) or quantitative (a great kindness).

The articles in generic reference:

All 3 types of article can be used to make a generic reference: the (usually), a/an with sing count nouns, zero with plural count nouns and with noncount nouns.

– The car /a car/ cars became an increasing necessity of life in the 20th century

– Velvet is an excellent material for curtains

1) Zero is by far the most natural way of expressing the generic

2) The indefinite article has a distinctly limited role in conveying generic meaning since it tends to carry a general partitive implication (“a” means any)

– Tigers run / a tiger runs more gracefully than most animals

3) The definite article with sing nouns conveys a rather formal tone in generic use

– No one can say with certainty when the wheel was invented

We find “the” used with musical instruments and dances

– Can he play the piano?

– Do you remember when everyone was keen on the rumba?

With plural nouns “the” is used to express generic meaning:

1) Where the referent is a national or ethnic group (the Chinese)

2) In phrases comprising and adjective head with human reference (the blind, the unemployed)