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Is it possible to have a determiner without a complement in any language?

I'm interested in sentences like "I bought two books" and "I bought two". What is the grammatical category of 'two' in the second sentence?

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    "Two" does not itself have a "grammatical category", unless you define grammatical category as a downward-percolating property from dominating syntactic nodes. It has a lexical category (numeral), which syntactically integrates with various grammatical features, depending on the slot. When there is no overt head noun in an NP, it may be the only word in an NP. A determiner does not change the lexical category of "two" to "noun" in "the two". In "I bought (the) two", the constituent after "bought" is uniformly DP.
    – user6726
    Jun 1, 2023 at 16:41
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    @user6726 cardinal numbers belong to the word class determinatives whose function is generally that of determiner. (note the different spellings). In "I bought two", "two" is a fused determiner-head NP, where the determiner "two" combines, or fuses, with the head. The fused determiner-head is interpreted anaphorically from some NP mentioned earlier in the discourse.
    – BillJ
    Jun 2, 2023 at 13:16

3 Answers 3

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It depends on your analysis, but many syntacticians take personal pronouns like "he" to be of category D without any c-selectional features (particularly if they like their noun phrases being DPs instead of NPs).

Supporting this is the fact that proper nouns can sometimes appear with determiners: "the Bob Smith", "our Katie". Personal pronouns generally cannot: *"the you", *"our him". (The only exception I can think of is "the real me", which is somewhat of a fixed expression.)

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  • Personal pronouns can appear with determiners more broadly than just a fixed expression. But in such cases, they are, if not wholly, then at least pseudo-nominal pseudo-quotational words-as-words: ‘the me that cheated yesterday is not the same me you see now’, ‘a new you, a new me, take me home’ (from the Donna Lewis song Take Me Home), ‘I’ll never find another you’, ‘there is no us; there’s a you, and there’s a me, but there isn’t an us’, etc. The main limitation seems to be that definite forms require a modifier (adjective or relative clause). May 30, 2023 at 8:00
  • My question was concerned with determiners as a grammatical category. More specifically, I'm looking for construction like this "I bought two books" vs "I bought two". What is the category of 'two' in the second example?
    – Asdoost
    May 31, 2023 at 4:25
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    @Asdoost If you say: "I bought two". That's a noun. Cardinal numbers are nouns. Cardinal numbers preceding nouns are determiners: I bought two books.
    – Lambie
    May 31, 2023 at 14:56
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    @Lambie When someone says "I bought two", they presumably don't mean "I bought the number two", they mean "I bought two [something]". I would analyze it as ellipsis.
    – Draconis
    May 31, 2023 at 15:23
  • @Draconis Even if it is an ellipsis, it functions as a noun.
    – Lambie
    May 31, 2023 at 15:28
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I thought about my question and the arguments presented by others. Most arguments look at the question from the Chomskian point of view, while we can look at the word's properties. Let's look at the example:

+ I bought two books.

- I bought two.

In this example, 'two' is a pro-form sharing the features of nouns and pronouns. You can identify this by changing the example:

+ I bought two linguistic books.

- I (also) bought three.

In this example 'three' functions as a pro-form by referring to 'linguistic books'. Let's change it more:

+ I bought two linguistic books.

- I (also) bought three. The three are about philosophy.

or

- I (also) bought three. All three are about philosophy.

Here, 'three' functions as a pro-form by referring to 'books' (not 'linguistic books'). It also takes 'the' or 'all' which is a nominal feature.

In conclusion, it is a pro-form. Since pro-form is not a grammatical category, but it shares features with nouns, we can consider it as a noun (as Lambie suggested).

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  • "The three is about philosophy" doesn't strike me as a possible English sentence (at least not in this context).
    – TKR
    Jun 2, 2023 at 1:40
  • Since you can simply replace "the three" with a pronoun (they), it seems odd, but it's grammatically acceptable. Anyway I just wanted to make a point.
    – Asdoost
    Jun 2, 2023 at 9:45
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Thank you for mentioning. I edited it.
    – Asdoost
    Jun 2, 2023 at 22:24
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If you say: "I bought two". That's a noun. Cardinal numbers are nouns. Cardinal numbers preceding nouns are determiners: I bought two books.

Even if there is an ellipsis as Draconis points out the first case above, it functions as a noun.

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  • It's a noun phrase with an elided head. The distinction is meaningful.
    – Cairnarvon
    Jun 2, 2023 at 0:09
  • Don't numeral nouns stand for either numerals or abstract numbers? e.g., "Two is a prime number." "Teddy wrote a two on the blackboard." Jun 2, 2023 at 1:19
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    Can you give any reasoning or justification in support of your answer? As it stands it isn't likely to convince a reader who doesn't already agree with it.
    – TKR
    Jun 2, 2023 at 1:44
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    No: cardinal numbers are not nouns. They are determinatives whose function is generally that of determiner. (note the different spellings). In "I bought two", "two" is a fused determiner-head NP, where the determiner "two" combines, or fuses, with the head. The fused determiner-head is interpreted anaphorically from some NP mentioned earlier in the discourse.
    – BillJ
    Jun 2, 2023 at 13:07
  • I guess that you guys win. :)
    – Lambie
    Jun 2, 2023 at 13:25

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