AskDefine | Define determinative

Dictionary Definition

determinative adj : having the power or quality of deciding; "the crucial experiment"; "cast the deciding vote"; "the determinative (or determinant) battle" [syn: crucial, deciding(a), determinant, determining(a)]


1 one of a limited class of noun modifiers that determine the referents of noun phrases [syn: determiner]
2 a determining or causal element or factor; "education is an important determinant of one's outlook on life" [syn: determinant, determiner, determining factor, causal factor]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. An ideogram used to mark semantic categories of words in logographic scripts.
  2. a class of words, with the main function of determiner in a noun phrase. Words in the determinative class usually also have other functions. Its core members include articles and other items that fill the same slot as articles but are mutually exclusive with them, such as cardinal numbers. Examples include: the, this, most, any, three, etc.


sense ideogram taxogram


a class of words

Related terms


Extensive Definition

A determinative, also known as a taxogram or semagram, is an ideogram used to mark semantic categories of words in logographic scripts. They have no direct counterpart in spoken language, though they may derive historically from glyphs for real words, and functionally they resemble classifiers in East Asian and sign languages. For example, Egyptian hieroglyphic determinatives include symbols for divinities, people, parts of the body, animals, plants, and books/abstract ideas, which helped in reading but none of which were pronounced.


In cuneiform texts written in the Akkadian and Hittite languages, most nouns are preceded by a Sumerian word acting as a determinative. The word clarified the concept of the noun but was not itself pronounced. In transliterations, the determinatives are commonly written in superscript capitals. Some examples are:
  • GIŠ for trees and all things made of wood
  • KUR for countries
  • URU for cities (but also often succeeding KI)
  • for people and professions
  • LÚ.MEŠ for ethnicities or multiple people
  • LUGAL for kings
  • DINGIR for gods
  • É for buildings and temples

Egyptian hieroglyphs

In Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, determinatives came at the end of a word and before any suffixes. Nearly every word — nouns, verbs, and adjectives — features a determinative, some of which become rather specific: "Upper Egyptian barley" or "excreted things".
Determinatives are generally not transcribed, but when they are, they are transcribed by their number in Gardiner's Sign List.


Some 90% of Chinese characters are [[Chinese_character#2._Pictophonetic_compounds_.28.E5.BD.A2.E8.81.B2.E5.AD.97.2F.E5.BD.A2.E5.A3.B0.E5.AD.97.2C_X.C3.ADngsh.C4.93ngz.C3.AC.29|determinative-phonetic compounds]]; the phonetic element and the determinative (called a radical) are combined to form a single glyph. Both the meaning and pronunciation of the characters have shifted over the millennia, to the point that the determinatives and phonetic elements are not always reliable guides.
determinative in German: Determinativ
determinative in Japanese: 限定符
determinative in Norwegian: Determinativ (ideogram)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

absolute, adducible, admissible, antecedents, arrowhead, article, assuring, attestative, attestive, authentic, authoritative, base, based on, basis, behind the scenes, bordering, borderline, boundary, bounding, call, caudal, causal, causation, causative, cause, cause and effect, certain, character, circumstantial, coastal, conclusive, constitutive, convictional, convincing, cumulative, cuneiform, damning, decisive, definite article, definitive, demotic character, determinant, determiner, determining, documentary, documented, effectual, element, endmost, etiological, etiology, eventual, evidential, evidentiary, ex parte, extreme, eye-witness, factor, factual, farthest, final, firsthand, formative, founded on, fringing, frontier, grammalogue, ground, grounded on, grounds, hearsay, hieratic symbol, hieroglyph, hieroglyphic, hieroglyphics, hiragana, ideogram, ideograph, implicit, impressive, incontrovertible, indefinite article, indicative, indisputable, institutive, irrefutable, irresistible, kana, katakana, last, limbic, liminal, limit, limiting, littoral, logogram, logograph, marginal, material, noun determiner, nuncupative, occasion, occasional, ogham, originative, overwhelming, persuasive, phonetic, phonetic symbol, pictogram, pictograph, pivotal, polar, presumptive, principle, probative, radical, reliable, rimming, rune, satisfactory, satisfying, shorthand, significant, skirting, stimulus, suggestive, sure, symptomatic, tail, telling, terminal, terminating, terminative, threshold, ultimate, valid, wedge, weighty, word letter
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