A word or phrase (such as some of or any of) that indicates a part or quantity of something as distinct from a whole. Also called partitive noun or partitive noun phrase.
Etymology:From the Latin, "relating to a part"
Examples and Observations:
- "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."
- "A lot of movies are about life; mine are like a slice of cake."
- "Now Murrell's eyes followed an ant on a blade of grass, up the blade and down, many times in the single moment."
(Eudora Welty, "A Still Moment." The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. Harcourt, 1980)
- "Soap gumdrops, soap cigars, soap pickles, soap chocolates, and even a bar of soap soap that dyed its user an indelible blue made life exciting for the friends of a Johnson Smith addict."
(Jean Shepherd, A Fistful of Fig Newtons. Random House, 1981)
- "Not a part of the rock or a speck of moss or a streak of some other mineral, it was one of those stubborn bits of green felted cardboard that these rocks were always fixed on inside of the boxes."
(Sharon Fiffer, Buried Stuff. Minotaur Books, 2010)
- Partitives With Count Nouns and Noncount Nouns
"Count nouns that can act as the first element in such a structure (e.g. piece, bit, sort, etc.) are partitive nouns or partitives. Some words that form the second part of the construction take specific partitives (also called unit nouns)
a blade of grassPartitives are useful because they provide a means of counting uncount nouns."
a loaf of bread
a flock of sheep
a speck of dirt
(Sylvia Chalker and Edmund Weiner, Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 1994)
- Partitives With Foods and Liquids
"Some partitives, such as gallon/liter of, can be applied to any head noun that is a liquid, and partitives such as ton/gram/pound of can be used to quantify anything that is appropriately measured by weight. Similarly, partitives such as bottle of can be applied to different types of liquids that come in this container (e.g., beer, wine, catsup, milk). In contrast, partitives used to quantify food are more restricted. Portions of baked goods such as cake, pie, pizza, and bread are measured by slices, and only bread is quantified by the partitive count noun loaf. Certain types of vegetables (e.g., cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce) are quantified by head."
(Ron Cowan, The Teacher's Grammar of English: A Course Book and Reference Guide. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008)
- Functions of Partitives
"Partitive expressions collocate strongly with particular non-count nouns:
a loaf of bread. . . Partitive expressions commonly refer to the shape, size, movement or the amount of something:
two slices of bread/cake/cheese/chicken breast
a bar of chocolate/soap
a bit of fun
a piece of furniture
a stroke of luck
a spell of bad weather
There's a whole stream of people queuing outside the post office.. . . Some partitive expressions with -ful refer to containers or spaces which commonly hold the item referred to. These include bowlful of, cupful of, fistful of, handful of, mouthful of, spoonful of:
He gave us a torrent of abuse.
He gave me a fistful of cash. I don't know how much it was all together.The plural of such expressions is usually formed by adding -s after -ful."
I always add a spoonful of salt to the pasta water.
(Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 2006)