The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Page 410) defines "Fused-head NPs (noun phrases)" as follows:

Fused-head NPs are those where the head is combined with a dependent function that in ordinary NPs is adjacent to the head, usually determiner or internal modifier:

[1] i Where are the sausages? Did you buy [some] yesterday? [determiner-head]

[ii] The first candidate performed well, but [the second] did not. [modifier-head]

Now, the question is about this sentence:

[You two] are shallow.

Here, is 'you two' a fused-head NP with 'two' being a determiner-head?

If not, how should the NP 'you two' be analyzed?

  • 8
    I don’t get why this is downvoted. Maybe because I’m way less versed in syntax than yourself or the downvoters; I wouldn’t even know how to approach this Q. But on first blush it definitely appears to be an educated, meaty question on the nuts and bolts of English, precisely the kind of question we all pine for here, in contrast to the dross we do get. Anyway, I’m upvoting, whether I understand the grammar or not.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 11:19
  • Whether CGEL would consider it a determiner-head or not, you two isn't the same construction at all as the first two, which are what I would label as Conjunction-Reduction instead of Fused-Head. You two is not referential, but deictic, and it's just another pronoun construction like both of you or we in the know, where context determines. Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 23:11
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    @JohnLawler I don't understand why it matters whether the NP in question is referential or deictic or neither. Note that 'some' in [1i] is neither referential nor deictic, whereas 'the second' in [1ii] is referential.
    – JK2
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 2:33
  • Because there is no referent to be missing. Conjunction reduction on the head noun of an NP requires identity of reference between the two Ns in the conjoined constituents. You two is merely a dual pronoun, no more fused than y'all. Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 3:09
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    @DanBron I absolutely agree, you are absolutely correct, and I am embarrassed and ashamed as an EL&U member on the part of the downvoters. Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 23:12

3 Answers 3


Here, "you" acts as the determinative and "two" as the head.

In The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (pp. 421-422), the following is written about "we" and "you" in the context of fused-head noun phrases:

The fused-head analysis avoids the need to recognise a large amount of overlap between the pronoun and determinative categories. In the present grammar there are just four items that belong in both categories: what, which, we, and you.


We regard the we/you students construction, therefore, as involving an extended, secondary use in which they [we and you] have been reanalysed as determinatives.

The we/you students construction is the same construction as the you two construction in your question. Therefore, "you" is the determinative, and "two" is the head.

Thus, if you remove "two," you are left with "you [two] are shallow," in which "you" is a fused-head noun phrase (determinative-head).


I couldn't find any previous use of the we/you students construction that is mentioned on p. 422, so I'm not totally sure where/if they mentioned it first. Nevertheless, I did find an example of the same construction using "Irish" instead of "students."

A side-by-side comparison between "we/you" as a determinative and as a pronoun on p. 422 is:

a. [We/You Irish] will have his support.

b. [We/You] will have his support.

In sentence (a), "We/You" acts as a determinative, whereas in sentence (b), it acts as a pronoun. It is quite clear that the function of "you" in "you two" is the same as it is in "you Irish."


Here, is 'you two' a fused-head NP with 'two' being a determiner-head?

If not, how should the NP 'you two' be analyzed?

"Two" is the (fused) head of the phrase. It is a determinative which takes over as the head of the NP for the understood noun. The noun referent "people" is left out (or guys, or dickheads..or any other noun that can be understood as having a personal referent) simply because it is too obvious to justify mentioning (however, it may add some new information that might tell more than simple "you two people". "People" doesn't contribute anything information-wise - of course they are people. On the other hand, "You two dickheads" says significantly more than just "you two")

"A SINGLE word (a determinative or adjective) is at the same time a determiner or modifier and also the head". (A Student's Introduction to English Grammar p97). In other words, what is understood as the fused head of the phrase is not "you two", but rather just the determinative "two".

The word "you" in "you two" should be analyzed as an external dependent in the NP - a determiner. It makes the nominal definite in the same way the demonstratives do, for example. (Those women and you two guys are the favorites for the award.) So, for example, the question "Which of the four of us?" might be answered with "You two", where "you" serves the purpose of identifying the persons in question.

"You two" is not a case of apposition, although the concepts of "definitiness" and "reference-specifying" do overlap partly. Apposition is to be understood simply as "naming". Most often the appositive NP literally names the previous NP referent - refers to it by a proper name.

CGEL (p374) gives a couple of properties distinguishing this construction from apposition. The striking point of difference is obviously the fact that we have only plural you and we/us in this construction. This means that the following head has to have a plural referent. (I think that a case could be made for "them" as well: I hate them crazy weirdos.) No such restriction applies to the use of appositive NPs. Even with plural referents the two constructions will be distinguishable. To take the examples from CGEL:

We supporters of a federal Europe will eventually win the argument.


We, the supporters of a federal Europe, will eventually win the argument.

  • As I understand from your brief discussion of apposition here and your more extensive discussion on other threads, the comma-delimited phrases in the following sentences would be regarded by the CGEL as apposition / not apposition respectively: 1. The closest planet to the sun, Mercury, is... and 2. Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, is.... Have I got the CGEL right?
    – Shoe
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 11:37
  • Yes Shoe, it is how I would analyze these NPs. Most often apposition comes down to literally naming the preceding NP referent. However, the terms "apposition" and "naming" cannot be used synonomously, unless we understood "naming" in a broader sense of "specifying" or "identifying". So, in the example from CGEL "A surprise present, a boquet of roses.. the appositive NP can be understood as "naming"something only in the sense of "pointing to", or "precisely specifying" the reference of the anchor NP.
    – user97589
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 12:01
  • It is clear that the intention in "Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, .. " is not to specify. "The closest planet to the Sun" is understood as simply predicating something about Mercury. If, for example, a professor of astronomy pointed to a constellation of planets on the screen and said like: Mercury, the planet closest to you on the right, .. the parenthesized NP would qualify as apposition.
    – user97589
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 12:13
  • Thanks. CGEL's position clearly separates the appositional sheep from the not-appositional goats. Hitherto, I have called both of the comma-delimited phrases (or similar examples) apposition in my teaching of English learners. I will need to ensure in future that I also say that one authoritative grammar classifies only the first as apposition. But that will be as far as I go.
    – Shoe
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 12:26
  • What I think is more important is that they understand the reason why or the context in which sentence 1 would be preferred to sentence 2 (and vice-versa). And this involves understanding the concept of theme as developed first by Michael Halliday in Systemic functional grammar.
    – Shoe
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 12:26

"Two" is an appositive/appositive phrase to describe "you". For example, my sister Mary might actually be an angel. "Mary" is an appositive to rename "my sister".

According to the Cambridge definition above, "two"(not "you two") is a fused-head NP[determiner-head] like "some".

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 22:27

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