Number is typically something that applies to nouns. In English, determinatives enter into scalar relationship and select singular or plural heads, but does it makes sense from a semantic point of view to say that a determinative like several is plural or that all can be singular or plural? What about something like which or certain? I can find lots on number and nouns, but not on the semantic number of determinatives.

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    That depends entirely on how you want your theory to be structured; you could say several is plural and so is boys, so several boys is simply agreement. If you wanna say one chooses the number of the other, you hafta say which one does it, and how. And also justify the choice of the one instead of the other. Agreement requires fewer presuppositions, and therefore is the way to bet, according to Occam.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 16:46
  • Is the term "determinatives" or "determiners"? Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 5:56
  • Both are used. For English, 'determinative' was first in the 1920s, followed soon by 'determiner'. Today, 'determiner' is certainly much more common. The Cambridge grammar of the English language uses both terms: 'determinative' for the lexical category, analogous to 'adjective', and 'determiner' for the function they typically perform, analogous to 'modifier'. Commented Jun 14, 2015 at 11:25

1 Answer 1


It's really hard to know what you would mean by semantic plural when it comes to things that are not nouns. Given that quantifiers bring plurality into the equation, you could argue that most are plural - every, many, several, pair, etc. You can say that those that pick out individual items like each or only are singular. But you'd end up with a lot of indeterminate cases.

In languages that have agreement between determiners and nouns, the determiners will end up with a plural form. But you get up with all sorts of crazy exceptions. In English, a good example is 'pair' which is semantically plural but you talk about 'a pair of lovers walks in'.

So you're better off just describing the system than worrying about what is ultimately a fundamentally artificial distinction.

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