Quantifier - Definitions and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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In grammar, a quantifier is a type of determiner (such as all, some, or much) that expresses a relative or indefinite indication of quantity.

Quantifiers usually appear in front of nouns (as in all children), but they may also function as pronouns (as in All have returned).

A complex quantifier is a phrase (such as a lot of) that functions as a quantifier.

Examples and Observations

  • "I believe that every person is born with talent." (Maya Angelou)
  • "Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with short steps." (Hans Christian Andersen, in the instructions for the music for his funeral)
  • "Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason: they made no such demand upon those who wrote them." (Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon, or Many things in Few Words, 1820)
  • "All politicians should have three hats: one to throw into the ring, one to talk through, and one to pull rabbits out of if elected." (Carl Sandburg)
  • "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened." (attributed to Mark Twain, among others)

Meanings of Quantifiers

"Quantifiers can be classified in terms of their meaning. Some quantifiers have a meaning of inclusiveness. That is, they refer to an entire group. Both refers to two members of a group of two, few to a subgroup of the entire group, and all to the totality of members of a group of unspecified size. Every and each refer to single members of a group. The difference between all, a few, and both on the one hand and each and every, is reflected in subject-verb agreement

"Other quantifiers are noninclusive and have a meaning related to size or quantity. These quantifiers can be classified by the relative size they indicate. For example, many and much refer to large quantities, some to a moderate quantity, and little and few to small quantities . . .." (Ron Cowan, The Teacher's Grammar of English: A Course Book and Reference Guide. Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Partitives and Quantifiers: Agreement

  • "There is, in fact, a somewhat fuzzy distinction between partitive structures and inclusives and Quantifiers formed with of. In a clause such as a lot of students have arrived it is the noun students which determines number agreement on the Finite (have - plural). It is not normally possible to say *a lot of students has arrived. Therefore students is the head of the noun group and a lot of is a complex Quantifier. Similarly, it is also normal to say a number of students have arrived not a number of students has arrived, that is, to treat a number of as a complex Quantifier. . . .
  • "For beginning learners, it may be best to introduce expressions such as a lot of and a number of as complex Quantifiers but in other cases to err on the prescriptive side and encourage agreement with the noun preceding of." (Graham Lock, Functional English Grammar. Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Count Nouns, Mass Nouns, and Quantifiers

"Count nouns (e.g. diamond, bottle, book, board, waiter, table, cat, bush, truck, house) and mass nouns (e.g. gold, coffee, paper, wood, meat, air, water, coal, smoke, blood, wine) differ grammatically in the range of articles and quantifiers they occur with. For instance, count nouns occur with the indefinite article a but not with the complex quantifier a lot of: a diamond, *a lot of diamond. Mass nouns do the opposite: a lot of gold, *a gold." (Ronald W. Langacker, "Linguistic Manifestations of the Space-Time (Dis)Analogy." Space and Time in Languages and Cultures: Language, Culture, and Cognition, ed. by Luna Filipović and Katarzyna M. Jaszczolt. John Benjamins, 2012)

Zero Plurals

"After numerals or quantifiers, count nouns may have a zero plural (the same form as in the singular): thirty year, many mile."​ (Sidney Greenbaum, Oxford English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 1996)

Also Known As: quantifying determiner

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Nordquist, Richard. "Quantifier - Definitions and Examples." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/quantifier-grammar-1691558. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Quantifier - Definitions and Examples. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/quantifier-grammar-1691558 Nordquist, Richard. "Quantifier - Definitions and Examples." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/quantifier-grammar-1691558 (accessed June 10, 2023).