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Are determiners a separate part of speech?

asked 2015-04-25 01:12:40 -0400

Lour gravatar image


I've read in one grammar book that determiners, though function as adjectives, are a separate word class from the rest of the parts of speech. In addition, I've also read in a different grammar book that interjections are not even a part of speech.

It would be a great help if you can clarify these to me.

Thanks in advance!

~ John Lour Flores :)

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answered 2015-04-29 01:09:07 -0400

updated 2015-04-29 01:11:32 -0400

The arguments for a class of elements called determiners to be an independent class of part of speech would be mainly syntactic. I recommend taking a look at Steven Abney's PhD-thesis:

and a lot more work on DPs since then...

One could argue that determiners are a separate word class based on their syntactic properties, in English, but also in other languages, e.g. a class of mutually exclusive elements in a specific syntactic position in relation to head nouns. In English typical D elements would be articles, demonstratives, possessive pronouns, pronouns, some quantifiers, etc. The arguments for all those elements being determiners are structural, mutual exclusiveness, selectional properties (e.g. wrt. head noun), etc.

Articles and pronouns are mutually exclusive:

the house

* the he (he here not in the Stephen King sense, or to flip it around in the The The sense)

Articles and possessives are mutually exclusive:

the house

his house

* the his house

Some nouns are not compatible with certain articles:

he bought the furniture

* he bought a furniture

Determiners precede nouns and pre-nominal adjectives:

the green tree

* green the tree


Thus the assumption that Ds are heads of DPs that take NP complements:

[DP D [NP N ] ]

This might be the only part of speech that is motivated by mostly syntactic properties, rather than for example lexical or morphological (e.g. word-formation paradigm) ones.

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answered 2015-04-28 23:38:00 -0400

usagi5886 gravatar image

updated 2015-05-03 11:55:53 -0400

In English, there are several good reasons (based to think of determiners as constituting a part of speech of their own separate from adjectives.

(1) Adjectives can be suffixed with -er or -est, but determiners can't. ( taller/biggest vs. *many-er / *the-est ).

(2) Adjectives can be intensified (with words like very or really ), but determiners can't. ( very weak person vs. *very her book )

If we define a part of speech as a group of words that pattern together in terms of structural criteria like these, then observations like (1) and (2) compel us to conclude that determiners and adjectives are indeed separate part-of-speech categories.

For further reading, a quick Google search on the topic turned up some good discussion on the topic at and

As for your second question ("whether interjections are a part of speech"), it is more of a philosophical question. On one hand, by definition, they aren't grammatically related to the rest of the sentence, hence you can't use syntactic tests like the ones I used above. On the one hand, though, this very fact can be used as a defining criterion for them. (In other words, it is the only 'part of speech' that is syntactically divorced from the rest of the sentence.)

I think most linguists today would acknowledge interjections as forming a distinct class of words. Lists of interjections can readily be found online (e.g.,,,, etc. ). However, if you compare several such lists, you will find that there are certain ones that all lists have (the more 'prototypical' ones) and others are more idiosynctatic and only found on 1 or 2 lists. Due to their nonsyntactic nature, there is certainly something paralinguistic about interjections that make them more of an open-set class of words than other parts of speech. (For example, if you hit your toe on a desk, you could yell out an interjection that is not an established word of English but nonetheless communicates your pain.)

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Asked: 2015-04-25 01:12:40 -0400

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Last updated: May 03 '15