Consider below the partitive NP "a group of business leaders and politicians".

Today, a group of business leaders and politicians held a meeting in which they discussed a wide range of topics, from climate change to the impacts of the pandemic.

Typically, partitive NPs have the following structure: quantifier + of + partitive oblique. My question here is whether the partitive oblique in this sentence ('business leaders and politicians') is an NP (so that the entire partitive NP contains an embedded noun phrase) or a nominal (as, for instance, old man is in the sentence The old man was very courteous).

If the partitive oblique is indeed an NP, are there there any other examples of such nested NPs?

Thank you.

  • 1
    Richard Nordquist, ThoughtCo: In English grammar, a partitive is a word or phrase (such as "some of" or "a slice of") that indicates a part or quantity of something as distinct from a whole. A partitive is also called "partitive noun" or "partitive noun phrase" and is from the Latin "partitus," meaning "relating to a part." Partitives can appear before mass (or noncount) nouns as well as count nouns. [emphasis mine] //// The string 'partitive oblique' is very rare on the internet. May 25, 2022 at 18:51
  • @EdwinAshworth. I think you misunderstand what it is that I am asking, and perhaps that owes itself to poor wording on my behalf. I am not asking whether it is possible for a partitive oblique to be a noun; rather, I am asking whether the partitive oblique in the given sentence is a noun phrase or nominal.
    – Eric
    May 25, 2022 at 19:26
  • I have amended my question accordingly.
    – Eric
    May 25, 2022 at 19:29
  • @Eric 'I am asking whether the partitive oblique in the given sentence is a noun phrase or nominal.' The answer to this question is no. It is a co-ordination of two NPs! May 26, 2022 at 20:37

3 Answers 3


When there is a plural noun heading a phrase, and no determiner present, it's ambiguous whether it's a nominal or a noun phrase without context.

In this case, its function as complement of a preposition makes it an NP.

A determiner could be added,

...a group of these business leaders and politicians...

Prepositions mostly take NPs as complement, and we can see that a nominal would be unacceptable in a partitive,

*Part of old man was painted on the wall.

Part of an old man was painted on the wall.

*Part of group of business leaders held a meeting.

Part of the group of business leaders held a meeting.

A better example of 'old man' as a nominal would be,

[That old man smell] disgusts me.

Here, it is a pre-head modifier in a noun phrase: a function that allows nominals but not NPs.

As far as other examples of similar, any prepositional phrase with an NP complement functioning as post-head modifier in an NP would follow a similar logic. With the exception of predicatives like,

[Her time [as secretary of the interior]] was short-lived.

With as nominals are allowed as a predicative complement and the predicand is understood through the determiner.

  • 1
    One first needs to define terms, and be felicitous about how localised/global the given stipulative/precising/dictionary definitions are. May 26, 2022 at 11:18
  • On a re-read, I see that 'a nominal would be unacceptable in a partitive' needs adjusting. 'Part of Cheshire is under water after the heavy rains.' Jun 4, 2022 at 10:47
  • 'Cheshire' is a proper name. Proper names which do not include determiners can be NPs or nominals. In 'Part of Cheshire is underwater', it is an NP. It is classed as a nominal in 'the Cheshire poems'. The ambiguity out of context is similar to phrases headed by a plural noun.
    – DW256
    Jun 4, 2022 at 11:30
  • Ah, the CGEL terminology is assumed as inviolable. Jun 4, 2022 at 12:00

Calling something a "partitive" does not make it different. Calling something "partitive oblique" simply makes it obscure. Labels are arbitrary. English nests noun phrases in many ways and constructions.

There's nothing special about the constructions
(NPs and PPs marked with [brackets])

  • [a group] [of [ [ [business] leaders] and [politicians] ] ]
  • [ [a wide range] [of [topics] ]

and there's no reason to call the NPs in them anything but noun phrases. They are not partitives, especially -- English doesn't really have partitive constructions -- and calling the object of a prepositions an "oblique" instead of an object or a noun phrase is simply obscurantism. Mistrust whoever taught you that terminology.


a group of business leaders and politicians The NPs are in bold

{a group of business leaders and politicians} is an NP.

Preposition + NP = modifier.

Adjectival modifiers (adjuncts) are very common

{The people in the garden}NP are guests. The NPs are in bold.

Nouns and NPs can be identified by pronoun substitution.

Those in it are guests.

Compare the partitive

{A good half of the people in the garden}NP are guests. -> Some of them are guests

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