Topic 13 – Expression of quantity

Topic 13 – Expression of quantity

I have based this essay on the following sources:

– Biber et all. Longman Grammar of spoken and written English.

– Jackson, Howard. Grammar and Meaning.

– Pullum and Huddleston. The Cambridge Grammar of English Language. 2002.

– Quirk & Sidney. A University Grammar of English.

In this essay I will deal with the following issues:

Firstly with the concept of situation.

Secondly with the expression of quantity through countable and uncountable/ mass nouns.

Thirdly, the expression quantity through determiners: numerals (ordinals and cardinals) & indefinite quantifiers (universal, assertive, non-assertive and negative).

To end up with a close analysis of indefinite quantifiers.

0. INTRODUCTION: What’s in a situation?

The VERB may be regarded as determining what other elements may or must accompany it in the sentence. A verb is not only a representative of a situation type, but it creates a situation which contains people who do things, people or things that have something done to them, and so on.

For example, the action verb “send” creates a scene which includes:

· a sender,

· a thing or person sent,

· and a destination to which the thing is sent, as in Anne stopped sending me money or, She sent me to London.

The sender, the thing/person sent and the recipient are PARTICIPANTS in the situation. Participants are realised especially by members of the word-class of nouns.

In general, the participants are the essential elements of a situation. We could add to the sentences further elements which would represent non-essential information as the CIRCUMSTANCES of a situation.


One way in which a participant may be identified is by the relation of QUANTITY. A participant is specified for amount or number.

Quantity can be express through:

A distinction must be drawn between nouns: between those which refer to things which may be counted and related to number, and those whose referents may not be counted and relate to amount. The former are termed COUNTABLE nouns (e.g. box, tree, star) and the latter are termed UNCOUNTABLE or MASS nouns (e.g. information, happiness, bread).

In English the number system for countable nouns has 2 terms: singular & plural. This means that countable nouns are either in singular form, when they refer to one individual thing; or they are in the plural form, when they refer to more than one thing.

For uncountable nouns, the system of number does not operate. There is only one form, and the noun refers to an undifferentiated mass. Uncountable nouns cannot therefore used with the indefinite article a.


That is, determiners, which accompany nouns and provide for their identification, include, among others, the group of items specifying quantity. There are two subgroups of quantifiers:

· NUMERALS: ordinals & cardinals: give precise numbers of countable nouns and are of two types: CARDINAL, (e.g. There are five students in the class); and ORDINALS (e.g. the first unit is a review).

· INDEFINITE QUANTIFIERS: universal, assertive, non-assertive & negative. They are imprecise in their specification of number or amount, but there is a considerable range of them, with several gradations of quantity: e.g. a couple of, about half a dozen or so, etc, as in In about 18 months or so, he will return to sea. Indefinite quantifiers can be categorized into FOUR TYPES:





The typical UNIVERSAL indefinite quantifier is ‘All’, which can be used with plural countable nouns and with mass nouns. It may be the only determinative (e.g. They refuse all the agreements) or it may precede another determinative like ‘this’ (I think someone should stop to all this gossip about the pupils).

For plural countable nouns there is the quantifier ‘BOTH’ (He has both hands on the table).

With singular countable nouns, ‘EACH’ & ‘EVERY’ are used as universal quantifiers (e.g. Each person should have a job).

ASSERTIVE indefinite quantifiers specify a positive but indefinite number of amount of a noun. The typical assertive quantifier is ‘SOME’, which may be used with plural countable nouns (e.g. some churches), and with mass nouns (e.g. some bread).

Others used with countable nouns include: ‘MANY, SEVERAL, A FEW, FEW.’ Examples of those used with mass nouns are: ‘MUCH, A LITTLE, LITTLE’.

Also included in this type are several expressions with ‘of’, such as: ‘PLENTY OF, A LOT OF, A NUMBER OF, and A (large, small) QUANTITY OF’.

The NON-ASSERTIVE indefinite quantifier ‘ANY’, which may be used with both countable (singular & plural) and mass nouns occurs in negative and interrogative sentences to deny the specification of quantity.

‘EITHER’ is used with singular countable nouns.

The NEGATIVE indefinite quantifiers are: ‘NO’ & ‘NEITHER’. These are used in positive sentence to assert the absence of quantity (e.g. He will have no help).


Quantifiers like ‘ALL, SOME and NONE’ can be applied to both count and mass nouns (e.g. All of the cake, some of the cake, none of the cake).

Other amount of words specify more precisely the meaning some are:



A large amount

many, a lot, a large number

Much, a lot, a great deal

A small amount

a few, a small number

a little

Not a large amount

not many, few

not much, little

Notice that ‘FEW’ and ‘LITTLE’ without a have a negative bias (e.g. Few of the students passed the exam = not many).

‘MANY’ and ‘MUCH’ can be neutral words of amount, used, for example, in comparisons (as many/much) and in questions (How much/many).

‘ALL, BOTH, EVERY, EACH and sometimes ‘ANY ‘are amount words of inclusive meaning. (i.e. All crimes are avoidable = all of the crimes in the world).

With count nouns, ‘ALL’ is used for quantities of more than two, and ‘BOTH’ for quantities of two only (i.e. The club is open to people of both sexes and all nationalities).

Words like ‘EVERY and ‘EACH’ can be called distributive, because they pick out the members of a set or group singly, rather than like at them all together. Apart from this meaning, ‘EVERY’ has the same meaning as ‘ALL’. (i.e. All good teachers study their subject carefully / Every good teacher studies his subject carefully = The distributive meaning of ‘every’ shows in the use of singular forms).

‘EACH’ is like ‘EVERY’ except that it can be used when the set has only two members. Thus ‘EACH’, unlike ‘all’ and ‘every’, can sometimes replace ‘BOTH’. (He gave a box of chocolates to all the girls = all the girls shared one box / He gave a box of chocolates to each/every one of the girls).

The most common used of ‘ANY and NEITHER’ is in the negative sentences and questions, but here we consider them as distributive words. ‘ANY’ can sometimes replace ‘all & every’ in positive sentences (i.e. Any good teacher studies his subject carefully = all-every). But ‘ANY’ means something different in (i.e. You can paint the walls any colour you like = ‘Any colour’ means red or green or blue …, while ‘every colour’ means red and green and blue and … ‘ANY’ mean its does not matter who / which / what …)

When there are only two object ‘EITHER’ is used instead of ‘ANY’. (i.e. You can ask either of my parents).

‘ANY’ can also be used with mass nouns and singular count nouns (i.e. Any land is valuable these days).

Like ‘ANY’ are: anyone, anybody, anywhere, anything, anyhow, anyway and anyplace. Like ‘EVERY’ are: everyone, everybody, everything and everywhere.