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date: 23 January 2021

Bare Nominalslocked

  • Bert Le Bruyn, Bert Le BruynUniversiteit Utrecht
  • Henriëtte de SwartHenriëtte de SwartUniversiteit Utrecht
  •  and Joost ZwartsJoost ZwartsUniversiteit Utrecht

Summary

Bare nominals (also called “bare nouns”) are nominal structures without an overt article or other determiner. The distinction between a bare noun and a noun that is part of a larger nominal structure must be made in context: Milk is a bare nominal in I bought milk, but not in I bought the milk. Bare nouns have a limited distribution: In subject or object position, English allows bare mass nouns and bare plurals, but not bare singular count nouns (*I bought table). Bare singular count nouns only appear in special configurations, such as coordination (I bought table and chairs for £182).

From a semantic perspective, it is noteworthy that bare nouns achieve reference without the support of a determiner. A full noun phrase like the cookies refers to the maximal sum of cookies in the context, because of the definite article the. English bare plurals have two main interpretations: In generic sentences they refer to the kind (Cookies are sweet), in episodic sentences they refer to some exemplars of the kind (Cookies are in the cabinet). Bare nouns typically take narrow scope with respect to other scope-bearing operators like negation.

The typology of bare nouns reveals substantial variation, and bare nouns in languages other than English may have different distributions and meanings. But genericity and narrow scope are recurring features in the cross-linguistic study of bare nominals.

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