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7 Quantifiers, determiners and predeterminers

Quantification may target various semantic objects, such as persons and things, places and moments in time. Any Noun Phrase (NP) is a quantifier from a semantic point of view. The quantificational character of NPs is chiefly determined by the syntactic elements introducing the NP, that is, by determiners. Quantifiers can be discussed from a syntactic point of view and from a semantic point of view. Syntactically, determiners often, but not always, look like being simple heads. Simple determiners include:

  • The articles (definite, indefinite, negative)
  • Possessive pronouns
  • Quantifiers proper, such as bee ‘both’

Some determiners have the appearance of being complex heads:

  • negation + determiner: nit fuul ‘not much’
  • predeterminer + article: aal dät ‘all the’

A maximal projection, more specifically, a possessive NP can also have the function of acting as a determiner to an NP. Semantically, quantifiers can be classified with the aid of the square of opposition. This square consists of four interrelated semantic notions, each of which is a particular kind of quantification:

  • universal quantification, such as all men
  • existential quantification, such as a man, at least one man
  • negative quantification, such as nit aan ‘not one > no one’
  • the negation of universal quantification, such as not all men

Negation of universal quantification is regularly expressed by negation followed by a universal quantifier and will not be further discussed.


Quantifiers can also be divided into definite and indefinite ones. Indefinite quantifiers have the property that they may appear in the existential there-construction. Nouns may be elided following quantifiers, see numerals and quantifiers. Quantifiers differ as to whether they themselves agree with the following noun, and as to whether they trigger adjectival agreement on a following AP in the attributive construction. On this, see: Agreement of APs with a following Noun and a preceding determiner. In the topics below, we discuss various types and aspects of quantification.

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