Bare singular noun phrases are mass in Brazilian Portuguese

Roberta Pires de Oliveira, Susan Rothstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


This paper argues that bare singular noun phrases in Brazilian Portuguese are mass nouns denoting kinds. We show that the prima facie arguments against treating bare singulars as mass nouns do not hold water, since they contrast atomic bare singulars with substance mass nouns such as ouro 'gold', rather than with atomic mass nouns such as mobília 'furniture'. We show that in fact bare singulars and atomic mass nouns show the same properties with respect to distributive predicates and reciprocals. We then show that in distribution and interpretation, bare singulars behave like mass nouns and not like bare plurals. We give an analysis of the semantics of bare singulars/mass nouns in the framework of Rothstein (2010), treating them as kind denoting terms, while proposing that bare plurals are generated as plural predicates NPs, as proposed by Krifka (2004), and show how this explains the differences in distribution and interpretation. We conclude that bare singulars can be the complements of mass quantifiers such as muito 'much' and quanto 'how much', in which case these behave semantically exactly like mass nouns: quanto livro with the bare singular asks about the overall measurements of a quantity of books in terms of volume or weight and is thus an expression of measure, while quantos livros with the plural count noun asks only for the cardinality of the set of books under discussion and thus is a question about counting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2153-2175
Number of pages23
Issue number15
StatePublished - Dec 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Maria Jose Foltran and her colleagues for inviting Susan to participate in the VII Workshop on Formal Semantics at the Universidade Federal do Paraná (Curitiba) in 2008. This led to us meeting and beginning to talk together about the semantics of bare noun phrases. The CAPES/COFECUB project 645/09 funded several trips by Roberta to Europe and one to Israel which made is possible for us to continue working together. Roberta would like to thank CNPq, for the fellowship 304638/2009-9, and Susan would like to acknowledge the support of ISF grant #851/10, which partially supported this research. We would also like to thank audiences at the VIIIth Workshop on Formal Semantics at Universidade de São Paulo (São Paulo 2010), the Bare Nominals and Genericity conference (Paris 2010), the Workshop on Bare Nouns at Bar-Ilan University (Ramat Gan 2010), and the VIIth Congresso Internacional da Abralin (Curitiba 2011) Abralin VII for their comments and questions about this material. Thanks to Fred Landman who joined in several conversations with very fruitful results, to Carmen Dobrovie-Sorin for much helpful discussion, to Roberlei Alves Bertucci for comments on earlier stages of the work, to Renato Miguel Basso for helpful suggestions, and to three anonymous reviewers whose careful reading of the penultimate draft of the paper led to what we hope is a better final version.


  • Atomicity
  • Bare nouns
  • Bare singulars
  • Brazilian Portuguese
  • Count-mass distinction
  • Kinds


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