"The firefighter saved a kid from the fire."

I've just learnt a sort of curious notion. Generally, it is said that 'the firefighter' is a noun phrase "NP". But, somaone said that's a determinative phrase "DP". Surely, I don't know syntax expertly and technically. To the best of my knowledge, if it's "NP", the head of the phrase is "firefighter". Contrariwise, If it's "DP", the head of the phrase is "the", firefighter being complement of "the". Ergo, the intense curiosity makes me say that between a determinative and a noun, which one do you native speakers think of firstly when you enunciate "The firefighter"?

1 Answer 1


No doubt for me, I think "The firefighter". Just as in

The cat ran up the stairs

I think "the cat". Perhaps you see explanatory texts such as this, which gives an example like that.

I'm also no expert on English grammar (I'm just a simple native speaker ;-) but I would rarely expect an unaccompanied "the" to act as a determinative. However in a second reference from the same source (!) there is the example:

The cat ate a rat

where "the" is so defined. This reference describes a determinant as

Determinatives provide information about a noun’s quantity or definiteness.

and the Head as the

most important part of the phrase

I find it very hard to imagine that "the" in any of these examples is more important than the noun.

In contrast

There were three firefighters at the scene. The tall, red-haired firefighter rescued the child.

needed a determinant to distinguish between the firefighters and clearly the word "firefighter" is now much less important.

  • Thank you so much (Your link is very helpful). In language, I believe that a native speaker's hunch is of paramount importance. Thus, the theory (DP hypothesis) is only theory. I googled it and saw a comment like yours (which is based on a native speaker's hunch)
    – JYJ
    Feb 26, 2019 at 0:38
  • that comment says: "Saying that it is not an NP but a DP means affirming that our brain first picks the determiner and then the noun - which doesn't seem to be the case... articles are definite or indefinite depending on the status of the noun, that means that we 1) first have a noun and depending on its informative status we decide for it to be definite or indefinite and then 2) pick a definite article (the), or an indefinite one (an). But it depends on the semantics of the noun. You do not choose a type of article and then a noun that informatively fits into that determiner category."
    – JYJ
    Feb 26, 2019 at 0:40

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