2

So "half" belongs to a special class of words known as "predeterminers", those that can occur before determiners:

Half a century

Half the people in this company can't speak a word of English

In English though, there are no indefinite (article-type) determiners in the plural: there are no plural equivalents to "a/an". This means that "half", as a predeterminer, does not have any determiner to "pre".

Half Americans disapprove of the President (?)

Half Japanese women prefer men who can cook (?)

Are these two last sentences incorrect in any way? Or could they sound awkward or unnatural? Should I use "half of" instead?

7
  • @nnnnnn That's a good point. Without a determiner in between, half could be mistaken for an adjective. Aug 6 at 13:25
  • 1
    /'hæfə/ Half a/Half of is the usual pronunciation. Half a minute, OK? Half of Koreans make kimchi. Determiners get crammed into a "determiner phrase" with its own limitations and contractions, mostly idiomatic. But don't call it a "determiner phrase" because that now means "noun phrase" to some linguists. Aug 6 at 15:34
  • 1
    Isn't some in some men were standing by the lake an indefinite plural determiner? Aug 6 at 18:43
  • @EdwinAshworth Touche. Edited. Aug 6 at 20:03
  • What do you consider a reputable source? An academic book or paper? A style guide or popular book on English usage such as Strunk and White? An example of the phrase being used in a professionally edited publication? Statistical evidence from corpora? Even if a source of some type can say if something is grammatical, the question of whether it is "comfortable", "awkward", or "unnatural" is often a matter of opinion or judgment, although perhaps somebody's opinion is good enough for you?
    – Stuart F
    Aug 8 at 20:20

3 Answers 3

2
+100

After reading your question, I didn't quite understand what you're asking. Only after reading your own answer did I understand what you're asking and, more importantly, why you're asking what you're asking.

To quote your own answer:

the contextual range for half is more restricted than all and both, both of which are also predeterminers. In short, unlike all and both, there must be a determiner after half.

So, you're comparing half with all and both, which is simply comparing apples with oranges. Firstly, half is a fraction, just as quarter, third, and fifth are.

Secondly, fractions can only function as predeterminers and cannot function as determiners, which means that they can come only before a determiner. So it's only natural that you can't say things like:

*Half Americans disapprove of the President.

Because you don't have any determiner right after the predeterminer!

In contrast, both and all can function as determiners as well as predeterminers. To quote the examples of your own answer:

  • half those oranges are rotten [predeterminer]

  • both the children came [predeterminer]

  • all the men went home and stayed there [predeterminer]

  • all lions are unpredictable [determiner]

  • both the dogs are friendly [predeterminer]

  • both dogs are friendly [determiner]

  • *half people arrived [predeterminer]

  • *half trains are always late in my country [predeterminer]

So you just have to know that half is a fraction whereas all and both are not, and therefore that half functions differently from all and both.

2
  • Now that you've put it like that, I realize @Tuffy 's comment above ("it must literally 'precede' a 'determiner'.") rings so true. None of the reputable British dictionaries I have access to lists half as a "determiner", unlike all and both which are both determiners and predeterminers. The so-called "zero determiner" applied to plural nouns are nothing but a lack of a visible, audible and literal determiners. It's interesting how there exists such asymmetry in English between singular nouns and plural nouns. Aug 13 at 3:37
  • 1
    @Vun-HughVaw Just like determiners, predeterminers are not a class of words, but simply a function of various classes of words. For example, even adjective phrase that big can function as a predeterminer in It's not that big a deal. Here, the adjective phrase cannot come before the deal or plural deals: *It's not that big the deal. *They're not that big deals.
    – JK2
    Aug 14 at 1:15
3

I had to go to the third page of my search results but ELT Concourse claims precisely that: the contextual range for half is more restricted than all and both, both of which are also predeterminers. In short, unlike all and both, there must be a determiner after half. Therefore, such phrase as "half Americans" is incorrect, and must be changed to "half of Americans", for example.

Here's an excerpt from the source:

With plural count nouns we can use all three pre-determiners but half cannot be used with the zero article

For example:

  • half those oranges are rotten

  • both the children came

  • all the men went home and stayed there

  • all lions are unpredictable

  • both (the) dogs are friendly

but not with the zero article:

  • *half people arrived

  • *half trains are always late in my country

3
  • Could you please attribute the source, and paste the actual section that supports 'that' (ie answers 'Yes' to OP's title question)? Aug 7 at 18:44
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth Sure thing, although I don't know how to format the blockquote to make it look nicer. Aug 8 at 6:40
  • 2
    Also half doesn't float like all and both (which is just suppletion for *all two). All/Both (of) the boys left = The boys all/both left, Half (of) the boys left, but *The boys half left (if it means anything, it doesn't mean half of the boys left). Aug 9 at 2:08
1

Just confirming a comment.

Both of the sentences are acceptable, but mean different things.

Half of Japanese women prefer men who can cook.

This means that in a given population, we are speaking of 50% or so.

Half Japanese women prefer men who can cook.

This would imply the women in question are half Japanese. See a CNN article on Japan's hafu:

The Japanese word "hafu" -- or "half" in English -- refers to people who are ethnically half Japanese, and is now used more for multiethnic people in general in Japan.

10
  • 1
    I am not at all sure that the concept of 'determiner' and 'predeterminer' is the most useful invention of that last grammatical century. But, as I understand it, it must literally 'precede' a 'determiner'. It is, however, odd that no other fraction happens to avoid the partitive preposition 'of'.
    – Tuffy
    Aug 6 at 18:46
  • @Tuffy I believe that the overtones of the invention of the grammatical category are philosophical, and it's utility is the depths by which you want to plumb the ontological commitment of a phrase
    – J D
    Aug 6 at 21:36
  • 1
    I disagree. You have to hyphenate half-Japanese for anyone to take it that way. And although I would probably use “of” myself, I have no evidence that leaving it out is “wrong”. What authority do you have to support your statements?
    – David
    Aug 6 at 21:39
  • 4
    Let me explain. I am a scientist and on my “home” SE Biology site I would expect any answer to be supported with evidence or argument. That way the poster and others can determine objectively whether an answer is more than an opinion. The only way to judge here whether an unsupported opinion is correct is votes. However often in English people are convinced that the usage they are accustomed to, or the opinions of their schoolteachers, are correct, when in fact this is not the case. I’ve fallen into that trap frequently enough to be wary of my own authority — and that of others.
    – David
    Aug 6 at 22:03
  • 1
    @JohnLawler lol Indeed. Well spoken. Some people just crave to be beholden to linguistic authority.
    – J D
    Aug 11 at 16:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.