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Show full table of contents Types of N1s and N2s

This section briefly characterizes the types of nouns that can be used as N1 (the first noun) or N2 (the second noun) in a quantificational binominal construction (QC) such as een paar voorbeelden'a couple of examples'.

[+]  I.  Types of N1s

Example (2) gives several types of nouns that are frequently used as N1s in a QC. These nouns share the semantic property that they can be used to refer to a certain number of entities or a certain quantity of a substance denoted by N2.

Example 2
Semantic types of N 1s in quantificational binominal constructions
  examples of nouns example
Quantifier Nouns (QNs) aantal‘number’, (hele)boel‘lot’,
hoop‘lot’, paar‘couple’, stel‘couple’, etc.
een hoop problemen
a lot [of] problems
Measure Nouns (MNs) kilo‘kilo’, liter‘liter’, meter‘meter’,
dozijn‘dozen’, gros‘gross’, etc.
een kilo bonen
a kilo [of] beans
Container Nouns (ConNs) doos‘box’, emmer‘bucket’, krat‘crate’, etc. een doos pillen
a box [of] pills
Part Nouns (PartNs) brok‘piece’, klontje‘lump’, reep‘bar’,
stuk‘piece’, etc.
een stuk cake
a piece [of] cake
Collective nouns (ColNs) dozijn‘dozen’, groep‘group’, kudde‘flock’,
paar‘pair’, rij‘row’, stapel‘pile’,
serie‘series’, zwerm‘swarm’
een groep studenten
a group [of] students

Often, some nouns act as belonging to more than one group, which may give rise to ambiguity. This holds especially for quantifier nouns, which often may be either purely quantificational (that is, without any descriptive content), or more referential, that is, with descriptive content that enables them to refer to an entity. A clear example is the noun paar'couple'. The QC in (3a) is ambiguous between two readings. On the first reading, the noun paar acts as a quantifier noun and can be translated as “couple/number of”: the noun has a purely quantificational function and QC refers to a small number of shoes. On the second reading, the noun acts as a collective noun and must be translated as “pair of”: the noun has descriptive content that enables it to denote a certain set of entities, and the QC refers to two shoes that form a pair. Observe that the quantificational reading is not available if N1 is preceded by a definite article, as in (3b).

Example 3
a. een paar schoenen
  couple/pair [of]  shoes
b. het paar schoenen
  the  pair [of]  shoes

Another example involves the noun aantal'number' in (4). Example (4a) shows that the noun aantal can be used as a quantifier noun if it is preceded by the indefinite article een'a': the QC refers to a small, but indefinite number of students. However, if aantal is preceded by the definite article het'the', as in (4b), it must refer to an actual number; in this case it probably acts as a measure noun.

Example 4
a. Er lopen een aantal studenten over het grasveld.
  there  walk  a number [of]  students  across the lawn
  'A number of students are walking across the lawn.'
b. Het aantal studenten is dit jaar weer gedaald.
  the number [of]  students  is this year  again  decreased
  'The number of students has decreased again this year.'

It is not clear whether the classification in (2) is exhaustive, and occasionally it may be difficult to decide to which semantic class a certain N1 belongs. Furthermore, N1s tend to shift from one class to another (especially in the direction of quantifier nouns) when their referring force weakens, which is what probably happened to the nouns paar and aantal in (3) and (4), and the same thing may be true for the quantifier noun hoop, which is related to the collective noun hoop'heap'. In this subsection, such N1s will mainly be discussed in their (unmarked) function as quantifier nouns.
      Finally, it can be noted that many nouns that normally do not occur as N1 can enter QCs if they are followed by the unstressed adjective vol'full' in (5a); some formations, like een handvol'a handful of', are even fully lexicalized. The quantificational adjective heel'complete' and some other attributive adjectives may have a similar effect. Some examples are given in (5b&c).

Example 5
a. een tafel ??(vol) cadeaus
  a table  full [of]  presents
b. een ??(hele) tafel cadeaus
    whole  table [of]  presents
c. een *?(lange) brief jobstijdingen
      long  letter [of]  bad news
[+]  II.  Types of N2s

Example (6) shows that an N2 can be either a plural count noun or a non-count noun: singular count nouns cannot be used as such. What these two categories have in common is the property of cumulativity or divisibility: the union of two sets of entities denoted by a plural noun results in a larger set of the same entities, and the division of such a set of entities results in smaller sets of the same entities; similarly the union of two quantities of a substance denoted by a non-count noun results in a larger quantity of the same substance, and the division of a quantity of a substance results in smaller quantities of the same substance. This property does not hold for singular nouns: a singular noun refers to an entity and the union of two entities forms a set, while the division of an entity results in entities of a different kind.

Example 6
Types of N 2s in quantificational binominal constructions
  count nouns non-count nouns
  plural singular  
QN een hoop problemen
a lot [of] problems
*een hoop probleem
a lot [of] problem
een hoop lawaai
a lot [of] noise
MN een kilo bonen
a kilo [of] beans
*een kilo boon
a kilo [of] bean
een kilo kaas
a kilo [of] cheese
ConN een doos pillen
a box [of] pills
*een doos pil
a box [of] pill
een pot zalf
a pot [of] ointment
ColN een groep studenten
a group [of] students
*een groep student
a group [of] students
een kudde vee
a herd/flock [of] cattle
PartN *een stuk koekjes
a piece [of] cookies
*een stuk koekje
a piece [of] cookie
een stuk cake
a piece [of] cake

Example (6) also shows that the part nouns are special in licensing non-count nouns only. There are more instances where additional requirements apply. A quantifier noun like sloot, which literally means “ditch”, for example, can normally only be combined with a substance noun denoting a liquid. This is shown in (7a). Similarly, many collective nouns impose special requirements on N2: the collective noun kudde'herd/flock' in (7b) can only be combined with nouns referring to certain species of mammals, zwerm'swarm' mainly with certain types of flying insects, vlucht'flock' only with birds, school'shoal' only with fish, etc.

Example 7
a. een sloot melk/*zand/*boeken
  a ditch [of]  milk/sand/books
b. een kudde olifanten/vee
  a herd [of]  elephants/cattle

These special restrictions are by no means strict but violating them will generally result in some special effect. The collective noun kudde'herd/flock', for example, can be used derogatively in combination with nouns referring to people, as in example (8a). Here the noun kudde is used figuratively, and as a result (8a) can be used to refer to students with certain properties that are normally attributed to elephants or cattle, like being noisy/destructive or docile. In the case of the noun sloot'ditch', the difference between (7a) and (8b) has nothing to do with figurative speech, given that sloot is hardly ever used literally in QCs; instead, the difference here seems to be that between substances that could fill a ditch and things that could not. In the latter case, sloot can also be followed by a plural noun, and the meaning conveyed is typically negative, e.g., “too many”.

Example 8
a. een kudde studenten
  herd [of]  students
b. een sloot kinderen/aanmeldingen
  ditch [of]  children/applications
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