(I don't think we can really say that an NP is equal to a noun because nouns represent a category on a lower level than a noun phrase.

A noun phrase always contains a determiner (whether visible or not) and a noun. Sometimes a noun phrase can look like it contains only a noun but we then assume that there is a zero determiner before that noun that functions as a head word of that noun phrase.

This is the case when we have uncountable nouns or nouns in plural. For example, "I drink [NPcoffee] every morning."

The noun phrase "coffee" consists of a zero determiner, and a head noun "coffee".)

What is meant by zero determiner and the nature of it being visible or not?

Where would it be in this example: The students in the class listened carefully to the teacher

Head word is students, right.

1 Answer 1


What is meant is that in most cases a noun phrase is the more meaningful syntactical unit than the noun alone. Obviously, most noun phrases are built up of a different types of word, but you cannot speak or write much of substance using only nouns and verbs.

In most cases, a noun in English requires a preceding word usefully called by modern grammarians a "determiner." The most common determiners in English are the articles "a," "an," and "the." In some cases, however, a noun is not preceded by any determiner. Example:

Horses are beautiful animals."

When no determiner is used, many call that a zero determiner. Because it is not there, it is neither visible nor audible.

In your final example, there are no zero determiners for any noun. Each noun is preceded by "the" so the whole issue of zero determiners is irrelevant.

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