Definiteness restriction

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Definiteness restriction is the restriction that the subject of a sentence beginning with expletive there, must be an indefinite noun phrase, or in Milsark's (1977) terms, a weak noun phrase. The definiteness restriction is shown by the contrast between (i) and (ii): the strong noun phrases in (i) are not compatible with expletive there.

(i)   a	*There is John/the man/every man in the room
      b	*There are they/the people/most people in the room
(ii)  a	 There is a man/one man in the room
      b	 There are men/two men/many men in the room


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Milsark, G.L. 1977. Toward an explanation of certain peculiarities of the existential construction in English, Linguistic Analysis 3, pp.1-29
  • Milsark, G.L. 1974. Existential sentences in English, diss. MIT.
  • Reuland, E. and A. ter Meulen (eds.) 1987. The representation of (in)definiteness, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Safir, K. 1982. Syntactic chains and the definiteness effect, diss. MIT.