Can that (either separately or as the first word of a phrase) modify "book" in the following:


I have never heard of that Jane Austen's book.

I.e., can the sentence be equivalent to

I have never heard of that book of Jane Austen's.

What about

I can't find that boy's book.

Can "that" modify book? If it can, is it any different than Sentence 1?

2 Answers 2


That in all of these sentences acts as a determiner. Determiners are words like the, a/an, some, many which stand at the beginning of a noun phrase and "determine" which member or members of the 'set' which the noun names is in play.

Possessives also act as determiners. Since ordinarily only one determiner is permitted in each noun phrase, that Jane Austen's book is ungrammatical (except in the unlikely case that your discourse is about two or more Jane Austens). That's why you have to use your second example, in which of Jane Austen's is an ordinary modifier, not a determiner.

That boy's book, however, is acceptable, because in this case that is taken to be a determiner on boy, not book: not that book of the boy but the book of that boy.

  • 1
    That Stoney B! Don't you just love that Stoney B's writing style .... :) (Not sure there's two SB's there!) Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 10:36
  • @Araucaria True. Also "Man, I do love me some mama's fried chicken", where the determiner's dependency is less ambiguous. Art and rhetoric depend on breaking rules, which can't happen if the rules aren't in place. Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 10:50
  • How can you say it's LESS ambiguous? Does he love only HIS mama's chicken, or is any ("some") mama's chicken just as lovable? I would actually favor the latter, because "mama's" is not capitalized—but it's hard to tell. Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 11:12
  • @BrianHitchcock In my dialect, at least, there's no ambiguity: the stress/pitch profiles are completely different. Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 12:27
  • Sorry, those "stress profiles" didn't come through in print. Funny how that happens. Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 7:22

that is used as an adjective, sense 3:

3) designating the person or thing mentioned or understood ⇒ "that woman is Mary; that pie tastes good"

so yes it does modify the noun.

Otherwise in your examples (assuming Jane Austen is the author), 1a should be:

I have never heard of that Jane Austen book.

that is mentioning a particular Jane Austen book

As such, 1b would be better as:

I have never heard of that book by Jane Austen.

Ex. 2 is OK, that modifies book, since you could also say I can't find that book.

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