Consider the sentence, "Most of the apples are fresh." Is it incorrect to say that apples is the antecedent of the indefinite pronoun most?

  • 4
    There's not enough information here to say, and there's way too many undefined theoretical terms. You should know that none of these terms are universal, and all of them can be used in several ways. Antecedent, in particular, has to do with relative clauses, not quantifiers. Dec 31, 2012 at 23:34
  • 2
    Is this a question about terminology, or about the actual relationship between words like some, most, many, few, etc. and the "object" they modify/limit? Dec 31, 2012 at 23:45
  • @JohnLawler The drivel's cleared
    – fny
    Jan 1, 2013 at 17:30
  • Yes, but you're still talking about pronouns and antecedents. There's no pronoun here, and thus no antecedent. There is a quantifier most of, which binds the noun phrase the apples. Jan 1, 2013 at 18:38

2 Answers 2


When Donatus listed the Latin Parts of Speech in his Ars Minor, he didn't mention "Quantifier".

partes orationis quot sunt? octo.
quae? nomen pronomen uerbum aduerbium participium coniunctio praepositio interiectio.

How many parts of speech are there? Eight.
What are they? Noun Pronoun Verb Adverb Participle Conjunction Preposition Interjection.

He didn't mention "Adjective" either, and "Participle" slipped off the Approved List, but that's another story. Of course, this was the 4th century AD, so one shouldn't expect much.

However, as it happens, this list (with "Adjective" replacing "Participle" since around the 14th century) is still what's taught in Anglophone schools as the English Parts of Speech. 4th-century science, applied to a language that didn't exist then.

There have, however, been some discoveries since the 4th century. One of them is that not all languages are like Latin. In particular, English isn't much like Latin, though it's borrowed about half its vocabulary from Latin, one way or another; however, parts of speech (POS, or Grammatical Categories, as they're called in syntax) are about grammar, not vocabulary, so where the words come from doesn't matter. It's how they're used that counts.

One of the grammatical categories that is very prominent in English is the Determiner. Articles are determiners, and so are quantifiers. In an English noun phrase, determiners are placed before prenominal adjectives:

  • [quite a few of the] [big red expensive] houses

The first bracketed chunk above is composed of determiners and the second of adjectives; the last word, houses, is the head noun.

Quantifiers include numbers (three of the), indefinites (many of the), and universals (each/any/all of the). They don't all use prepositions, they have very complex syntax, and logically, they are related to Modals and Negatives in that they are Operators, elements with a focus on some other element in a clause. This focussed element is said to be "bound" by a quantifier, and is usually stressed in speech.

Binding is not quite the same thing as modification, a term usually applied to adjectives, adverbs, and articles; this is semantics, not really syntax. A quantifier can bind a word located quite far away from it, and can be moved around without changing the meaning, something that modifiers can't do easily.

  • All of the boys passed the test = The boys all passed the test.

And it's not quite the same thing as pronoun antecedents (Latin for 'coming before'), either.
They have their own unique syntax.

Executive Summary: Don't depend on Latin when you want to know about English.

  • Interestingly, the four demonstrative determiners occupy the article slot (meaning you cannot place another article there if one of this, these, that, those is already there), and confer the same “definiteness” that the normal definite article does. I wonder why they do not count as definite articles themselves then.
    – tchrist
    Jan 1, 2013 at 19:49
  • In many languages, they are articles. In English, articles are often required in a noun phrase, but demonstratives are rarely required. They do of course, have some relation -- they all come from the PIE *t- pronouns, which paralled the *kʷ- pronouns -- Lat quantum/tantum, qualis/talis, etc. Jan 1, 2013 at 19:58

No, apples is not the antecedent of most. Most of is a quantifying pronoun.

  • Do quantifying pronouns not have antecedents?
    – fny
    Jan 1, 2013 at 17:33
  • I can't think of any way in which they could have. Do you have an example in mind? As John has said, we generally speak of antecedents in the context of relative clauses, so I'm not sure what you mean. Jan 1, 2013 at 18:05

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