What's the difference between modifiers and determiners?



From The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, page 519:

Genitives, such as Christ’s in [4iv], we take to be modifiers not determiners. They occur readily in names that are themselves functioning as modifier within a larger construction, as in a Christ’s College don: this is a construction which accepts nominals but not full NPs in modifier position. Such genitives cannot normally contain a determiner — compare King’s College, Women’s College, etc.

I don’t see what is the clear difference between modifiers and determiners. Aren’t the latter just included in the modifiers’ category?


Posted 2014-11-24T04:16:06.107

Reputation: 25 811


StoneyB gives a good definition in the second paragraph of their answer to this question.

– None – 2014-11-24T05:50:28.360

3A single NP has only one available determiner slot. But, an NP can have zero to many modifier slots. Determinatives are in competition with each other to fill that one determiner slot. That is, "a" or "the" or "that" or "this" or etc. can fit that determiner slot, but only one of them can be used, e.g. "A this big red box is on sale" is ungrammatical because "A" competes with "this" for that one determiner slot. – F.E. – 2014-11-24T18:38:30.317

3Though, be aware that determinatives can also function as modifier in NP structure. That is, the determinative "five" is functioning as a determiner in "Five boys are at the door" , while it is functioning as a modifier in "These five lazy boys are your students". – F.E. – 2014-11-24T18:45:23.903



The difference is actually alluded to in that very quotation: a determiner, plus a nominal, forms a noun phrase (NP).

More specifically, they form a determined NP. There also exist bare NPs, which consist of a nominal with no determiner. For example, in "I drank some whole milk", "whole milk" is a nominal and "some whole milk" is a determined NP, whereas in "I only drink whole milk", "whole milk" is both a nominal and a bare NP.

(Note: The CGEL does not always use the same terminology as other sources. It generally offers compelling rationales for its decisions, but it's important to be aware that these differences exist. For example, what the CGEL calls a "nominal", many other sources would call a "noun phrase", and what the CGEL calls a "noun phrase", many other sources would call a "determiner phrase".)

Aren’t the latter just included in the modifiers’ category?

Not in the CGEL's classification, no. In the CGEL's classification, a modifier does not change the function of a phrase, whereas a determiner does.


Posted 2014-11-24T04:16:06.107

Reputation: 4 098