Learn how to use determiners and types of determiners in English.
What Is a Determiner?
An important role in English grammar is played by determiners – words or phrases that precede a noun or noun phrase and serve to express its reference in the context / to give more information about the noun.
The most common of these are the definite and indefinite articles, the and a, an. Other determiners in English include demonstratives such as this and that, possessives such as my and the boy’s, and quantifiers such as all, many and three.
Common Types of Determiners
The following is a rough classification of determiners used in English, including both words and phrases:
Which imply that the referent of the resulting noun phrase is defined specifically:
1. The definite article the.
Example: The girl, all the factories, the red wine
2. The demonstrative adjectives
Examples: this, that, these, those
3. Possessive adjectives
Examples: my, your, his, her, its, our, their, whose, one’s, everybody’s, Cindy’s, Linda’s, a boy’s, the man we saw yesterday’s.
Examples: which, what (these can be followed by -ever for emphasis).
5. Relative determiners: which, whichever and whatever…
Example: Whichever way you look at it, things are pretty bad.
1. The indefinite article
Example: a or an
2. The word some
Used as an equivalent of the indefinite article with plural and non-count nouns.
3. The strong form of some
Example: Some people pretend to despise the things they cannot have.
4. The word any
Often used in negative and interrogative contexts in place of the article -equivalent some (and sometimes also with singular count nouns). It can also be used to express alternative.
1. Words indicating a large or small quantity and their comparative and superlative forms
Examples: much/many, little/few, more, most, less/fewer, least/fewest.
2. Phrases expressing similar meanings to the above.
Examples: a lot of, lots of, plenty of, a great deal of, tons of, etc.
3. Words and phrases expressing some unspecified or probably quite small amount
Examples: a few/a little (learners often confuse these with few/little), several, a couple of, a bit of, a number of, etc.
4. Cardinal numbers
Examples: zero (quite rare as determiner), one, two, etc.
5. Other phrases expressing precise quantity
Examples: a pair of, five liters of, etc.
6. Words and phrases expressing multiples or fractions
Examples: half, half of, double, twice, three times, twice as much, etc.
7. Words expressing maximum, sufficient or zero quantity
Examples: all, both, enough, sufficient, no.
Note that many of these quantifiers can be modified by adverbs and adverbial phrases such as almost, over, more than, less than, when the meaning is appropriate.
The words you and we/us, in phrases like we teachers; you guys can be analysed as determiners.
I thought you guys all wore those penguin coats.
Us girls wear woolen socks in winter.
These examples can be contrasted with a similar but different use of pronouns in an appositional construction, where the use of other pronouns is also permitted but the pronouns cannot be preceded by the (pre-) determiner “all”.
I/we, the undersigned, . . . ,
We, the undersigned, . . . , (but not All we, the undersigned, . . .)
1. The words such and “exclamative what
These are followed by an indefinite article when used with a singular noun.
Such a long way.
What a disaster!
2. Noun phrases used as determiners
Example: This color and what size (as in I don’t like the color furniture; What size shirt does he wear?)
In some contexts a complete noun phrase can exist without any determiner (or with “zero determiner”). The main types of such cases are:
1. With plural or uncountable nouns used to refer to a concept or members of a class generally
Cars are useful. (but the cars when specific cars are being referred to)
Happiness is contagious. (but the happiness when specific happiness is referred to, as in the happiness that laughter engenders…)
2. With plural or uncountable nouns used to refer to some unspecified amount of something
There are dogs under the table.
Do you take milk in your tea?
3. With many proper names
Examples: Tom Smith, Birmingham, Italy, Jupiter, Mars, Paris, Thomas Johnson
4. With singular common nouns in some common expressions
Examples: smiling from ear to ear, leaving town today.