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The BBC has shown me very little respect.

What is the determiner of the noun phrase very little respect?

Is it little or very little?

If it's little the adverb very seems to be modifying the determiner little.

Can an adverb modify a determiner in general?

1 Answer 1

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Larry Zweir, at Cambridge Grammar and Beyond (abridged and reformatted), classes

  1. a lot of
  2. a great deal of
  3. a large amount of
  4. quite a few
  5. a little bit of
  6. a small number of
  7. a small amount of

as compound quantifiers.

All except (1) here can obviously have an intensifier / downtoner removed to leave a more basic compound quantifier. (This makes significant differences in all but (2).)

So 'very little', though no noun seems involved, can arguably be classed as a compound quantifier (with the simple quantifier 'little'), and hence a determiner.

Obviously, some will prefer to separate parts here, and talk about 'quantifier modifiers' by whatever name they prefer.

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  • Isn't a whole lot of... an "intensifier"? That's still current, even if we wouldn't usually use alternatives such as fine, good in such contexts today. Mar 10, 2020 at 18:16
  • As I say. And 'a small amount of' illustrates downtoning. Some may label 'small' a downtoner, some leave it as part of a larger lexeme. Mar 10, 2020 at 18:28
  • @EdwinAshworth So in general an adverb cannot modify a determiner?
    – listeneva
    Mar 11, 2020 at 1:12
  • 1
    There are no agreed single definitions for 'word' and 'sentence', so you can imagine that different schools treat this issue differently. Zweir gives one analysis. I prefer this sort of lumping (though the lump-or-split debate certainly has examples where a preferred model is seen to have drawbacks). Beware answers lacking 'according to ...'. Mar 11, 2020 at 14:09

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