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Here are some example sentences that show my thought process:

Some cats are playing with each other.

Okay, it seems obvious that "some" is a determiner.

A number of cats are playing with each other.

Likewise, "a number of" must also be a determiner. "Number" can't possibly be the head of the noun phrase, that doesn't make any sense. You wouldn't say, "A number is playing with each other."

(?) A group of cats are playing with each other.

Here I might get in trouble for subject/verb agreement, but if I assume that "group" is the head of the noun phrase, I get the following nonsensical statement:

(!) A group is playing with each other.

This doesn't make sense to me because "with each other" has the semantic implication that the subject must be plural, and yet "group" is not plural. Perhaps this is specific to my dialect (American English).


My sense is that "a group of", "a number of", and "some" can all function as determiners, and that the only reason that "a group of" is under dispute is because "group" can also function as a subject, meaning that both of the following sentences are grammatical:

A group of cats is causing a problem. (Head: "group")

A group of cats are causing a problem. (Head: "cats")

Is this analysis correct?

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    See Is “group” singular or plural?. – Stan Nov 26 '15 at 1:31
  • @Stan: That question seems to have no discussion whatsoever of determiners. – Dietrich Epp Nov 26 '15 at 2:18
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    @DietrichEpp Because English uses certain syntactic structures, one of which is the prepositional phrase, which happens here to be "of cats" and which modifies group. We can trace the syntactic boundaries of of to that word's role in replacing the Old English genitive case, which as an inflection on a noun, changed that noun and not the word that governed the genitive. So the Old English catt (cat) becomes catta (of cats). (The replacement of the genitive didn't happen directly but via translation of the French de.) – deadrat Nov 26 '15 at 6:03
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    Don't know an answer to the rest but my thought was that in your last two example sentences you also have a British/American distinction, where the Brits tend to say a "a group are" opposed to "a group is". I would say that "a group of" is a quantifier and therefore a determiner. Though I don't know whether I'm right – dukerasputin Dec 2 '15 at 14:56
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    @DietrichEpp- This a minor point, even perhaps irrelevant to this discussion, but in general American English usage, "with each other" usually refers to two actors while "with one another" refers to three or more actors. – Mark Hubbard Dec 15 '15 at 23:20
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As has been rightly mentioned 'some' is a determiner. But we cannot call 'number' as such. To add to the trouble problem word is "group" itself which is a collective noun like 'herd', ' class' etc. Collective nouns are not just names– they are words for the whole consisting of parts. It is very much natural that when a sentence begins with "a group of cats.....", the focus shifts to the word, group, and the rendering is treated more like other way of expressing the possessive. GROUP becomes the subject in both the examples mentioned in the end– a privilege which neither 'some' nor 'number' can aspire to.

In the first of your last two examples all cats are engaged in a single activity in unison with everyone else in the group, the group does team work and is rightly paired with singular verb.

But I have serious reservation about your last example. Here also the subject is 'group', not cats. When the members of colllective nouns act as individuals, those collective nouns must be paired with plural pronoun and plural verbs.

We could very well accept the plural verb if last sentence would disintegrate the sense of togetherness of cats- say by replacing " problems" instead of "a problem" so that we are lead to believe that the cats are behaving according to their respective wills.

Only remedy is to view 'a group of' and 'a number of' as phrasal determiners. But in that case, the verb would always be plural.

  • Do you have a citation or reference for this, or do you have any evidence to support this argument? – Dietrich Epp Dec 14 '15 at 23:34
  • No, "a number of" is not a determiner. It's not even a constituent. – Greg Lee Dec 15 '15 at 19:40
  • @GregLee: Could you elaborate on that? Phrase structure grammars are only useful as far as they explain actual grammar, I see no reason why (in general) one would say that a determiner must be a constituent because that's almost like saying that one must use phrase structure grammars and other grammars are wrong. Unless I misunderstand something. – Dietrich Epp Dec 16 '15 at 0:36
  • You're right that there is no logical necessity to using phrase structure grammars to describe languages, but it's a darn good theory, and to a very large extent, common to all current approaches to language description. However, if you had some facts to support your contention that "a number of" is a determiner, maybe we should take your proposal seriously. But you don't have any such facts, do you? Your examples just involve some mistakes in subject-verb number agreement. – Greg Lee Dec 16 '15 at 0:53
  • @ Dietrich Epp I fail to come across any authoritative or scholastic article on this score or find the phrases in the list of determiners any where. Some is straightway a determiner for its power of referring, quantifying and assimilating 'OF' without least change of meaning (some cats/ some of the cats). However we may regard 'a group of' and 'a number of' phrasal determiners like 'a lot of'. But the resulting noun phrases take the number of the following nouns, not the nouns in the phrase. In our case, we have no other option but to go for a plural verb after "cats". – Barid Baran Acharya Dec 16 '15 at 5:18

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