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Are determiners heads?

last updated 7 April 2007

Richard Hudson

Bibliographical information

This paper was written for a special issue of Functions of Language edited by Jean-Christophe Verstraete. It was published in 2004 in volume 11, pages 7 - 43.


The focus of attention is the relation between the determiner (D) and the common noun (N) in a noun phrase (NP). Four facts show that D depends on N: only N is relevant to whether NP can be used as an adjunct; possessive determiners are similar to clearly dependent possessives e.g. in Dutch and German; N decides whether or not D is obligatory; and in English only one D is possible per N. Three other facts show the converse, that N depends on D: in many languages D sometimes fuses with a preceding preposition (e.g. French de le = du; English for each = per); D decides whether or not N is obligatory; the ellipsis of N is a regular example of dependent ellipsis. Therefore D and N are mutually dependent, a relation which requires the structural flexibility offered by Word Grammar. This does not mean that NP has two heads, but rather that either D or N may be the head.