I'm having a really hard time searching for the exact term to refer to quantifiers that are of NP+PP combinations. E.g.: a lot of, lots of, a bit of, plenty of, a number of, an amount of, etc. "Basic" quantifiers are single word quantifiers (e.g.: few, much, many, several, etc.), but what are the NP+PP combinations called? Are they quantifying expressions? They're not compund quantifiers, are they?

How are they analysed in phrase structure form? Let's take for example "a lot of sugar". Should the quantifier "a lot of" go under the node "Det", should the whole phrase be analysed as [[NP[Det+N]]+[PP[Prep+[NP[N]]]]], or is there an X-bar involved somewhere?

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    They're complex quantifiers, or determiner phrases. In English, quantifiers (which can be phrases) normally precede attributive adjectives (which cannot be phrases), which normally precede the noun they all modify. It's a syntactic constituent, and some theories claim that it's the head of what we would both call a Noun Phrase, hence use of "Determiner Phrase" or "DP" instead of "NP" has come to be a badge of theoretical adherence.
    – jlawler
    Oct 12, 2013 at 14:16
  • Thanks, jlawler. That helps a lot. Are the quantifiers "a few" and "a little" complex quantifiers too? is it safe to assume that all quantifiers that are combinations of either article+noun, article+noun+pp, noun+pp are complex quantifiers?I have come across the DP hypothesis before, but I just can't get how the determiner can become the head of the phrase when the determiner has to agree to the noun in most cases. Anyway, that's a whole different lesson. Haha. Thanks again! Oct 14, 2013 at 18:30
  • Me neither. But if it doesn't work, you don't have to pay attention to it. Most complex quantifiers (this merely means there's more than one lexical item involved) are fixed phrases fossilized from normal NPs, with the bones of articles, nouns, and prepositions still embedded in the quantifier freeze.
    – jlawler
    Oct 14, 2013 at 18:35

1 Answer 1


I have encountered the term partitive phrase used to denote such phrases. I think, however, that the best designation for phrases such as a lot of interest, two of them, a bit of time, etc. is quantifier phrase (not determiner phrase). A non-determiner quantifier (lot, two, bit) is the head of these phrases, not the/a determiner. This choice is supported by the appearance of the preposition of in each case. This preposition typically appears in English as the direct dependent of a noun. Thus since one assumes that in a phrase such as loads of interest, the noun loads is the head, it makes sense to view bit as the head in a bit of time.

Concerning the impact of such quantifier phrases on the NP vs. DP debate (an issue mentioned in the comments), I think they support the traditional NP analysis more than the DP analysis. A DP-analysis of such phrases would have to view a in a lot of time as the head. An example like two of them allows the determiner to appear, e.g. the two of them. To be consistent, the DP-analysis of such phrases has to assume the presence of a null determiner if an overt determiner is absent. I do not see that there is any empirical evidence supporting the presence of a null determiner for phrases such as two of them, three of us, etc. The Wikipedia article on determiner phrases has some interesting arguments for and against the DP-analysis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determiner_phrase.

  • If you want to distinguish determiners as a subclass of quantifiers, or vice versa, that's OK, as long as you're consistent with the terminology, and post the ontology somewhere. I don't think determiners are terribly important; they're basically just auxiliaries for nouns, marking a bunch of special cases. Quantifiers, on the other hand, have important semantic repercussions, like all operators.
    – jlawler
    Mar 27, 2014 at 21:03
  • @Jlawler, by stating that determiners are auxiliaries for nouns, you seem to be suggesting that the syntactic analysis of determiners should be similar to that for auxiliaries. In other words, you seem to now be a proponent of DPs (as opposed to NPs). That would contradict your comment above. Mar 28, 2014 at 17:17
  • @Jlawler, my understanding of determiners is that they are a closed class of words that can be identified because they are immediate dependents of nouns that introduce NPs and because in English, only one of them can appear at a time. Many determiners can also function as indefinite pronouns, including many quantifiers. I acknowledge that there are difificult cases, e.g. "all the money". Mar 28, 2014 at 17:27
  • I didn't say anything about headship; I think it's an overrated abstraction. I would use "determiner phrase" to label constituents like quite a few more in _[[quite a few more] people [than I had expected]], if I had to label it. The determiner phrase that precedes adjectives can get quite complex. But I have very little use for X bars; I prefer a close shave with Occam's razor.
    – jlawler
    Mar 28, 2014 at 18:10
  • @Jlawler, you and I mostly agree in key areas of syntax. Of course the points where we disagree are the interesting ones. To quibble a bit, you are now using the term "phrase" inexactly. For me, a "phrase" is a constituent consisting of two or more words. What you understand a phrase to be is not clear to me, based on this most recent comment of yours. Mar 28, 2014 at 18:18

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