'A man who is married to Ann.' – Blocking of indefinites with internal and external modifiers


  • Manfred Krifka
  • Fereshteh Modarresi




The definite article often blocks the indefinite article in case the uniquenesscondition for definite articles is satisfied, as in '#a husband of Mary'. However, this is not alwaysthe case; there is no blocking in in 'a man who is married to Mary'. We review Alonso-Ovalle, Menéndez-Benito & Schwarz 2011, who noted the phenomenon and proposed an account interms of the weak/strong definite distinction. We point out problems in their approach, partly based on experimental results of a rating experiment. We then propose, based on German data, that blocking occurs with functional nouns like 'husband' and superlatives like 'highest mountain'but not when uniqueness arises through modification by prepositional phrases and relativeclauses. We give a novel explanation that relies on a syntactic attachment ambiguity between internal and external modification, which results in a semantic ambiguity in case of definites,but no such ambiguity in the case of indefinites. Under low attachment, uniqueness does not hold, and hence the definite article does not compete with the indefinite article. We also consider the case of preposed participial modifiers in German and argue that they tend towards an external modification because they are backgrounded.




How to Cite

Krifka, M., & Modarresi, F. (2023). ’A man who is married to Ann.’ – Blocking of indefinites with internal and external modifiers. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 27, 347–364. https://doi.org/10.18148/sub/2023.v27.1074