An ELT Glossary : Partitive nouns

 Partitive nouns, as the word suggests,  are nouns which express the concept that the item described is only a part but not the whole of the item then referred to. For example (with the partitive nouns underlined) :

slice of bread    a blade of grass    a drop of rain    

piece of research    a clove of garlic    a bit of cheese

teaspoonful of sugar    an item of news    a bout of 'flu    

fit of anger    a cup of tea    a bottle of wine    

bar of chocolate    a third of the water   a pint of milk

As these examples show, they are typically used with  nouns used uncountably (bread, news, rain, anger) etc, but being themselves countable can be used to allow you to "count" those nouns :

two slices of bread     regular fits of anger     several items of news  etc

Some partitives  - such as a piece of or a bit of - can be used with a wide variety of nouns. Others are more restricted in their collocations - for example, a clove of . Try looking at the examples above. How many words can you think of which collocate with each partitive? Do they come from different lexical fields or the same lexical field(s)?

Confused? If as you've been reading this you've found yourself thinking But... but..., don't worry - you're not alone. There's a lot of confusion about the term, with different grammars discussing it in different ways.  I therefore recommend also looking at the following :