quantifiers

UNDERSTANDING the uses of quantifiers

QUANTIFIERS are a set of determiners that indicate an amount or number of something. The most common quantifiers are shown below according to the kind of nouns they occur with.

Quantifiers That Occur With Singular Count Nouns
anyAny computer will do.
eachEach book was by a different author.
everyEvery computer in the school was replaced.
Quantifiers That Occur With Plural Count Nouns
anyAny of those computers can process that much data.
both Both shows were canceled after one season.
(a) few A few cell phones don’t have this feature.
many Many voters are still waiting at the polls.
severalLiam lived in that apartment for several years.
all All students must take the placement exam.
mostMost travelers use the Internet to plan trips.
moreWould you like more vegetables?
someSome birds cannot fly.
Quantifiers That Occur With Noncount Nouns
(a) littleI think I’ll have a little soup.
lessHe gave us less homework than he usually does.
muchWe don’t have much time.
allVanessa loves getting all the attention.
mostMost of the furniture is in good shape.
moreThat recipe requires more milk than you have.
someSome of the information was not accurate.

Notice that while some quantifiers occur with only one type of noun, all, most, more, and some can be used with both plural count nouns and noncount nouns.

It is important to Know that much can only occur before noncount nouns, and examples such as those in 1) are often cited as evidence that it can only appear with a negative element such as not or never or in questions. (A question mark before a sentence indicates that it is marginally grammatical for many native speakers.)

1a)  I don’t have much money.declarative sentence negative ‘not’
1b)  ?I have much money.declarative sentence without a negative element
1c)  Do you have much money?question

To most native speakers, 1b) would seem odd, as they would prefer a sentence with a lot of (i.e., I have a lot of money). Still, there are examples of much occurring in declarative sentences without a negative element, such as those in 2).

  • 2a)  Psychologists have given these matters much consideration.
  • 2b)  The dining room was the scene of much confusion.

Why is this? It may be because the sentences in 2) appear to be in a more formal style, as in literary writing. In fiction, sentences such as these would seem quite acceptable.

QUANTIFIERS can introduce noun phrases with nouns that have no other modifiers, as shown in 3).

  • 3a)  All men are created equal.
  • 3b)  Some boys like sports.

QUANTIFIERS can also precede articles and demonstrative and possessive determiners, as shown in 4). In this case, they are always followed by of. All is an exception to this rule, as shown in 4c) and 4d); it can optionally appear without of. For some native speakers, both can also appear with or without of.

  • 4a)  Some of the women in this room like tall men.
  • 4b)  Many of his friends are Republicans.
  • 4c)  All (of) the men are married.
  • 4d)  Both (of) these cars are brand new.

Quantifier floating

The quantifiers all, both, and each can occur in more than one position in a sentence. The rule that states the alternative positions that quantifiers can have is called QUANTIFIER FLOATING.

The possible positions if the verb is be are shown in 5). Looking closely, you will see that the quantifier all, which is part of the subject NP all of my relatives in 5a), can move to a position after the noun when of  is deleted, as in 5b), or after the verb, as is the case in 5c).

In 5d), all is part of the NP all of my friends, which is the subject of the complement in square brackets. Notice that here all can move to a position where it splits the nonfinite (infinitive) form to be, as in 5f), but it cannot move over the infinitive, as shown in 5g).

  • 5a)  All of my relatives are farmers.
  • 5b)  My relatives all are farmers.
  • 5c)  My relatives are all farmers.
  • 5d)  I want [all of my friends to be at the airport].
  • 5e)  I want my friends all to be at the airport.
  • 5f)  I want my friends to all be at the airport.
  • 5g)  I want my friends to be all at the airport.

In sentences with other verbs, the quantifier cannot move over the verb, as 6c) demonstrates. The restriction against moving across nonfinite verb forms holds for all verbs, as 6e) shows.

  • 6a)  All of the boys waved at the girls.
  • 6b)  The boys all waved at the girls.
  • 6c)  The boys waved all at the girls.
  • 6d)  Your mother wants [all of her sons to go to college].
  • 6e)  Your mother wants [her sons to go all to college].

The quantifier each can also be floated rightward. When it appears after the subject NP, as in 7b), the verb agrees in number with the subject rather than with each, as in 7a).

  • 7a)  Each of the boys / Each boy owns a motorcycle.
  • 7b)  The boys each own a motorcycle.

With each, but not all and both, quantifier floating can apply to NPs other than subject NPs. In 8a) each is part of an indirect object NP, whose head noun is children. Quantifier floating can move each to follow this NP, as is the case in 8b), or to follow the direct object, a dollar, as shown in 8c).

  • 8a)  Uncle Harold gave each of the children a dollar.
  • 8b)  Uncle Harold gave the children each a dollar.
  • 8c)  Uncle Harold gave the children a dollar each.

Each can be moved from a subject NP to a position behind an NP that expresses quantity after stative verbs such as cost, measure, and weigh, particularly as shown in 9c).

  • 9a)  Each of the new wide-body jets will cost $2 million.
  • 9b)  The new wide-body jets will each cost $ 2 million.
  • 9c)  The new wide-body jets will cost $2 million each.

Quantifiers other than all, both, and each cannot be moved by quantifier floating, as 11 illustrates.

  • 11a)  Some of the guests made speeches.
  • 11b)  The guests some made speeches.
  • 11c)  Most of the guests are diplomats.
  • 11d)  The guests are most diplomats.

Quantifier-Pronoun Flip

When all, both, and each appear in an NP whose head is a pronoun, they must be followed by of, and the pronoun is therefore in the object form, as shown in 12).

  • 12a)  All (of ) his books got good reviews.
  • 12b)  All of them got good reviews.
  • 12c)  Both of them got good reviews.
  • 12d)  Each of them got a good review.
  • 12e)  All them got good reviews.

The quantifier and the pronoun can optionally switch positions through a rule called QUANTIFIER-PRONOUN FLIP.

As 13) shows, when this happens, the pronoun, which no longer follows of, has the subject form.

  • 13a)  All of them got good reviews.
  • 13b)  They all got good reviews. → quantifier-pronoun flip

Quantifier-pronoun flip also applies to pronouns that are not sentence subjects, as is the case in 14). In 14b), the NP to which the flip applies is the object of the verb unpacked, so the flipped pronoun in 14c) remains in the object form.

  • 14a)  John unpacked all (of ) his books.
  • 14b)  John unpacked all of them.
  • 14c)  John unpacked them all.

For some native speakers, quantifier-pronoun flip with each can apply only to subjects NPs. Applying it to object NPs, as is the case in 15b), produces a questionable sequence as is in 15c).

  • 15a)  John reviewed each of the books.
  • 15b)  John reviewed each of them.
  • 15c)  ?John reviewed them each.

Reducing Quantifier + Of  + Pronoun Constructions

The sequence quantifier + of  + pronoun can be reduced by dropping of  and the pronoun. The quantifier then functions like a pronoun that must have an antecedentOpens in new window in an earlier part of the discourse.

Both the quantifier + of  + pronoun constructions in 16a) and reduced forms some and most in 16b) refers to the antecedent, the candidate that you interviewed, in the question.

  • 16)  Tom: What did you think of the candidates that you interviewed?
  • a)  Susan: Some of them were pretty good, but most of them weren’t.
  • b)  Some were pretty good, but most weren’t.

Meaning 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.

The difference between all,a few, and both on the one hand and each and every, is reflected in subject-verb agreement, as shown below in 17).

17)  QuantifierMeaningExample
allwhole groupAll (of) the recruits are over 18 years old.
anysingle member{Any of these cell phones / Any cell phone} fits your requirements.
bothtwo members Both (of the) recruits are over 18 years old.
eachsingle members{Each of the recruits / Each recruits} is over 18 years old.
everysingle members{Every one of the recruits / Every recruits} is over 18 years old.
fewsmall group {A few of the recruits / Few recruits} are over 18 years old.

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, as illustrated in 18).

  • 18a)  He has many friends → large quantity
  • 18b)  He has some friends → moderate quantity
  • 18c)  He has few friends → small quantity

The difference in meaning between the quantifier + head noun pattern in 18) and the patterns shown in 19) can be understood in terms of the dimensions of inclusiveness and size.

  • 19a)  Few scientists would argue that global warming is not occurring. → (scientist in general )
  • 19b)  A few scientists would argue that global warming is not occurring. → (a specific group of scientist )

The meaning in 19a) is understood as “from the population comprising all scientists in the world” there are few that deny global warming is occurring. The meaning of 19b) is understood as “there is a specific group of scientists, and this group comprises just a few people” who deny the reality of global warming.

This distinction is also used in many English language teaching textbooks to explain the differences in meaning between particular quantifiers.