As is in the title, why is the nominal determination indefinite in the following noun phrase?

a miniature Great Wall

I wondered if it was because this is a wall, and miniature and great are adjectives, and because its syntactic function is an object complement? I'm not sure; I am really confused about the grammar here.

Thank you!

  • Grammatically, I have no clue… but strip it right down to "It's a wall" It's not any specific wall - even as miniature replicas go, it's unlikely to be the only one, it's not the Great Wall of China, which at the last census still achieved a count of 1. If the phrase were in response to the question, "Which wall do you mean, this one or that one?" you might need 'the miniature Great Wall' to differentiate from the model of Jericho next to it. Dec 14 '14 at 13:57

The usage of a rather than the implies that there are multiple miniature replicas of the Great Wall of China. This is just one of many, as opposed to the Wall itself, which is unique.

Grammar doesn't dictate the usage here, as both a and the serve the same grammatical function. It's purely a semantic distinction.

  • Actually, you could use a here even if there was only one miniature in existence.
    – user230
    Dec 15 '14 at 8:30

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