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I am using a parser and I have run into a problem where I am unsure if the syntax tree that it is showing me is correct. The Noun Phrase is:

one of the lizards

My parser is telling me that "one" is the head noun in this NP, however, I feel that it could also be viewed as a pre-determiner, and the head noun could be "lizards."

Does anyone know which one is correct?

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    The parser is right. It's a partitive "fused-head" NP in which "one" is the fused head. It's partitive in the sense that that it denotes a subset of the set consisting of the lizards: we understand it to mean "one lizard from the set of lizards". Here, the head determines agreement; since "one" is singular, the verb should also be singular "One of the lizards is dead" (not *"are dead" ). It's called "fused-head" because the head and the determiner are fused into the single word "one"
    – BillJ
    Dec 3, 2016 at 10:34
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    Semantically of course, lizards is more prominent, but as BillJ and Greg Lee pointed out, the agreement with the verb (one of the lizards IS, rather than ARE) suggests that syntactically, the head of the noun phrase is indeed one. Dec 3, 2016 at 10:44
  • Welcome to Linguistics SE! By the way, with that nickname, it's going to be weird when you decide to answer! :)
    – Alenanno
    Dec 3, 2016 at 11:10
  • Thank you for the answer. It really helps me a lot. It was a very thorough answer. Dec 4, 2016 at 8:16

1 Answer 1

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I don't know -- I think it is arguable. It sounds rather peculiar with a plural-agreeing verb:

??One of the lizards are ready to eat.  

but that might be because the subject, "one of the lizards" refers to just one thing. English has both grammatical and semantic number agreement with verbs, so maybe in the above example, the peculiarity is due to the clash in semantic agreement, and "one"" is not actually the grammatical head.

If we look at NPs with "some", the verb seems to be agreeing with "lizard(s)", so maybe "some" is not the head:

Some of the lizard is ready to eat.  
Some of the lizards are ready to eat.
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  • With the last example, I wonder if this is a separate issue about how "some" can be singular or plural, depending on its semantic referent? For example, in a sentence like "Some are ready to eat," doesn't "some" have to be the head? Dec 3, 2016 at 18:05
  • @sumelic, Why would "some" in your example be a head? I don't follow your reasoning. (I already noted that English has both semantic and grammatical agreement.)
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 3, 2016 at 20:26
  • This was a real life example produced by a Grade 4 student in an English Immersion school. The sentence that was actually: One of the lizards is getting a carrot. Thanks for you thorough answers. Dec 4, 2016 at 8:18

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