First, lexicology:

pregnant adjective

  1. (of a woman or female animal) having a child or young developing in the uterus.

Even though the dictionary says 'a child,' we can say someone is pregnant with 3 babies.

Second, grammar:

Noun Phrases A noun phrase is a group of two or more words headed by a noun that includes modifiers (e.g., 'of them,' 'with her').

Even though the grammar says 'modifiers,' we can say a noun phrase includes one modifier.

That is, I think there are differences between usage and grammar & vocabulary. Especially when it comes to articles (a, an, and the) and grammatical numbers.

  • You have made several errors: (1) We don't say "someone is pregnant for 3 babies" (we say "pregnant with triplets". (2) A noun phrase can be single noun without a determiner or a modifier, as in "I like fish. (3) Words like "the", "a" etc. are not modifiers but determiners.
    – BillJ
    Jan 9, 2021 at 8:57
  • @BillJ I think it varies from a dictionary to the others when it comes to whether articles are modifiers or not. Jan 9, 2021 at 9:38
  • Most dictionaries correct say that the articles are determiners, see here: link. The problem is that some dictionaries say determiners are modifiers, which is of course ridiculous. Determiner and modifier are entirely different functions.
    – BillJ
    Jan 9, 2021 at 9:55
  • Okay, I will fix that. Jan 9, 2021 at 10:01

1 Answer 1


Yes, the dictionary definiton could be modified to read "having a child, children, or young"... It is correct to say "pregnant with triplets" (not "for three children")

And again the dictionary definition of "noun phrase" could be sharpened to say "one or more modifiers". Or if you want a formal grammar definition, "zero or more modifiers or determinants" (a phrase can consist of a single word though in context it is often understood mean more than one word).

This kind of detail is often omitted, as it is assumed that the reader will fill in the details using "common knowledge" or "context and experience". And it is why universities have to teach mathematics students how to write definitions and proofs that don't depend on common knowledge. A dictionary might define "prime number" as "A number which can't be divided into equal parts". A student might say "A prime number is a number which has no factors except for 1 and itself". But a mathematician might say it is "a positive integer that has exactly two positive whole number factors".

Another example is "rectangle". A mathematical defintion often includes squares as a type of rectangle, but general use tends to imply that the shape is not a square.

In a mathematical definition, you can't assume common sense, but dictionaries do.

  • I thought it is wrong because I didn't believe also the OED, one of the greatest dictionaries, makes me use common knowledge. Jan 9, 2021 at 9:43
  • That isn't the OED definition. It is the Oxford Learner's dictionary definition. The OED isn't free online, and would have lots more definitions and historical use. I would not say "wrong" but "simplifed".
    – James K
    Jan 9, 2021 at 9:51
  • I mean it's from Lexico, but I see the other words in the OED. Jan 9, 2021 at 9:54

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