The question below seems to be very simple at first glance and swifty got closed:

Are articles pronouns?

However, the answer is not as clear as it seems at first glance. For those of us well versed in twentieth century grammar, it seems clear that the word a is a different kind of word from the word we.

However, things are not so clear cut upon close observation. The Original Poster compares the words a and any. Not many people will argue with the fact that a and any seem to be the same type of word in examples like:

  • I couldn't find any books
  • I couldn't find a book

Here most people would agree that a and any are both determinatives. However, we also need to consider examples such as:

  • I couldn't find any books
  • I couldn't find any

For many writers, the word any in the examples above is the same word. The choice that most of these writers make is that it is a determinative in each case. However, this is just based on an extremely short period of historical fashion. It is not unreasonable, to argue that the word any there is the same kind of word as the word them:

  • I couldn't find any.
  • I couldn't find them.

In the examples above any is indefinite, and them definite. However, they appear to be doing exactly the same kind of job, and would be analysed by many as being the same type of word. And if this is true, and the word any is the same kind of word in both the examples above, and the word any is the same kind of word as the word a in the original two examples, then it would follow that the words a and them are the same kind of word. And according to the literature this is what is argued by several modern scholars and was originally thought by a few writers such as Ben Johnson, before finicky twentieth century writers came along and invented the term determinative (some writers use the term determiner instead).

So this question is not unworthy of an English linguistics site such as ours. Let's resurrect it. It needs your reopen votes!

  • 2
    You've made a great case that 'any' is a pronoun, but I fail to see how that makes a case for 'a'. It's pretty obvious to me that 'a' is in no way a pronoun. Sure, it shares properties with 'any' but not pronounness. '...we got trouble, With a capital "T" That rhymes with "P" And that stands for Pool'
    – Mitch
    Oct 7, 2018 at 12:33
  • 1
    @Mitch Well, it ain't my argument. You can read the Hudson here Grammar without functional categories. It's a good read, knock yourself out. Hudson says that a, the, every are intransitive pronouns. As you obviously take the most important aspect or pronounship to be being able to occcur as an NP on its own, you won't accept that. However, Hudson makes a very good argument. Similarly, Abney states that all pronouns are really determinatives. So again, a and any and it are all the same types of word. Oct 7, 2018 at 12:53
  • @Mitch However, these are not my ideas. I'm just explaining what they say. I didn't say I endorse their views, but their arguments are careful and well-aimed. Spinillo, is the one to read. However, she departs from the other two there in retaining a category article for the words a, the and every. Ben Johnson, the playwright and polymath, as you can read in my answer to that question, also considered aticles to be a type of pronoun. Determinatives as a concept only showed up about ten minutes ago Oct 7, 2018 at 12:54
  • @Mitch Trouble's a good thing though, right? Oct 7, 2018 at 12:56
  • 4
    @Araucaria I worry that you risk doing far more harm than good here. I urge you to carefully consider the asker’s other closed question and its comments. As you can read there, this asker lacks a basic grasp of essential grammatical analysis. Given that level of complete unfamiliarity with even traditional analysis, such askers will be severely ill-served by us if because of what they have read here, they on their English exams start calling articles “pronouns’ and get those all marked wildly wrong by their grader or automatic grading program.
    – tchrist Mod
    Oct 7, 2018 at 14:23
  • 1
    @tchrist Well, I'm kind of sympathetic to that, but then the OP can't really tell the difference between a noun and an NP. But at least the question is there for other readers and the intended readership of the site. I did put in a disclaimer at the beginning of the answer post, explaining the traditional analyses ... I hoped that would suffice. Anyhow, the unpopularity of even discussing the argument D's are P's or vice versa has ensured enough downvotes to keep my post at the bottom of the page. (I don't agree with Hudson or Abney, on balance, but their arguments are worth considering ...) Oct 7, 2018 at 15:57
  • @tchrist I've downvoted the OP's other Q's, but I tend to look at the general potential of the individual Q itself, and this one seemed to me to have potential. (Amazingly this post itself managed to get three downvotes in less than half an hour after being positive nearly all day!) Oct 7, 2018 at 15:58
  • @tchrist I've reversed the TLDR paragraphs and made the disclaimer stronger. Does that help any? Oct 7, 2018 at 16:03
  • 3
    Arguments about whether A is B or a C are silly. There are a few English words like you and them that are always used as pronouns, and it's safe to call them pronouns. Then there are a large number of words like each, this, some, what, and it that are sometimes used as pronouns; it's not safe to label them that way, though. Finally, there are words like there and ever, which one can argue are sometimes used as pronouns. Things never work out well with POS labels; I would vote for banning POS questions from the site. Reopening them is not helpful. Oct 16, 2018 at 19:26
  • 2
    @JohnLawler I agree with writers like Pullum that if you get the categorisation correct you can make better and more robust generalisations about the behaviour of different types of word or phrase. But that only works if you keep the grammatical relations, word and phrase categories and semantic relations separate. The work by the writers discussed there is hardly trivial as it spawned the DP hypothesis. Word categories are not you thing, obviously, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily a trivial concern! Oct 16, 2018 at 19:53
  • 1
    Spawning hypotheses is simple. Keeping them alive and healthy is a different matter. Besides inspiring yet more types of non-terminal category, and acronymic phrases to use as ingroup tokens, what actual benefit has the DP hypothesis brought to syntax? Oct 16, 2018 at 19:57
  • 1
    @JohnLawler I don't just discuss this stuff, I deal with it in actual practise. So for examlpe, when students write stuff like Here is very hot or I don't like here (which they do all the time), I can point out that here's a preposition and therefore difficult to use as a subject or object. Etc, etc. Oct 16, 2018 at 19:59
  • 2
    @JohnLawler I'm not sure, it's early days. But what's the point of syntax in the first place? One thing though, is that it might be able to explain why pronouns replace DP's and not N-phrases. We have one less type of basic phrase with an external dependent built in. Dunno, noun phrases aren't my main bag. Oct 16, 2018 at 20:03
  • 1
    @JohnLawler It's just another area where the POS has changed with modern research according to a lot of grammars, and which is fundamentally helpful. Oct 16, 2018 at 20:06
  • 1
    @JohnLawler Yes, but you aren't suffering from "I don't like here"-type problems! ;) Oct 16, 2018 at 20:14


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