, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 413-457

A unified analysis of the English bare plural

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It is argued that the English ‘bare plural’ (an NP with plural head that lacks a determiner), in spite of its apparently diverse possibilities of interpretation, is optimally represented in the grammar as a unified phenomenon. The chief distinction to be dealt with is that between the ‘generic’ use of the bare plural (as in ‘Dogs bark’) and its existential or ‘indefinite plural’ use (as in ‘He threw oranges at Alice’). The difference between these uses is not to be accounted for by an ambiguity in the NP itself, but rather by explicating how the context of the sentence acts on the bare plural to give rise to this distinction. A brief analysis is sketched in which bare plurals are treated in all instances as proper names of kinds of things. A subsidiary argument is that the null determiner is not to be regarded as the plural of the indefinite article a.

This paper represents a major revision and extension of my M.A. thesis written at the University of Iowa in the fall of 1973 under the direction of Larry Martin. I wish to thank Lisa Selkirk, Emmon Bach, Edwin Williams, Larry Martin, and Barbara H. Partee for reading and criticizing earlier versions of this paper, and for their constant interest and encouragement. The quality of the contents has been enhanced remarkably by their comments; of course none necessarily believe anything contained herein, and I am alone responsible for errors. In addition, I received many fine comments from the anonymous referee which contributed greatly to the finished product.