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Determiner

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Determiner

In English, words are grouped into word classes based on the function they perform in a sentence. There are nine main word classes in English; nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, and interjections. This explanation is all about determiners.

What is a determiner?

A determiner is a word that specifies a noun by giving more information about its location, quantity, or ownership. Determiners require a noun to go alongside them; they can't stand on their own (poor things!). Therefore, all determiners come before a noun or a noun phrase.

There aren't that many determiners in English and they are specific words that are easy to spot. Let's take a look at some examples now.

Examples of determiners

Determiners are words that come before a noun or a noun phrase to provide specific information. For example:

  • This cat is lazy
  • Every book is precious
  • I need a holiday
  • It will be the best holiday ever
  • Go to your room!
  • I bought three packets of Haribo

Determiner examples StudySmarterTHIS cat is lazy - Pixabay

What are the 6 types of determiners?

In this article we will cover the six main types of determiners, which are:

  • Articles

  • Demonstratives

  • Possessive determiners

  • Interrogative determiners

  • Quantifiers

  • Determiners as numbers

Articles

Articles are words used to determine (refer to) a noun. There are two articles in the English language, these are called the definite article and the indefinite article.

What is the definite article?

The word 'the' is a definite article. We use the definite article when we talk about a noun that is specific or certain. For example, before nouns that have previously been mentioned or are presumed to be known by the reader, or before something that is unique, such as the moon.

The cake over there is the one I want.

The sun is hot.

Don't close the door. (Here a specific door is being referred to. The person can close some doors, but not this one!)

What is the indefinite article?

The indefinite article is 'a' or 'an'. It is used before a general noun that is likely not known or not previously mentioned to the reader. For example, in the sentence 'a man was angry', the indefinite article 'a' conveys the idea of a 'general' man rather than someone 'specific'.

I want a drink.

There is a chair somehwere.

Pass me a pen; any pen will do!

Demonstrative determiners

Demonstrative determiners are determiners that specify a noun or noun phrase. In other words, they point to the thing or person that they mention. There are four demonstrative determiners in English, these are:

  • this

  • that

  • these

  • those

Proximity and distance play an important role when it comes to demonstratives. 'This' and 'these' suggest closer proximity (i.e. things close by), whereas 'that' and 'those' suggest distance.

For example, the word 'this' in the sentence 'This drink is disgusting!' suggests that the speaker is 'pointing to' something close and personal to them. The word 'that' in the sentence 'That drink is disgusting!' suggests that the drink is further away or maybe somebody else's.

It's easy to get mixed up between demonstrative determiners and demonstrative pronouns. Demonstrative pronouns replace the noun, eg. 'that is yellow' whereas demonstrative determiners are always used alongside the noun, eg. 'that banana is yellow'.

If you are really stuck in an exam you can use the word 'demonstrative'.

Possessive determiners

Possessive determiners are determiners that show ownership, hence the word 'possessive'. The possessive determiners are:

  • my

  • yours

  • his

  • hers

  • its

  • our

  • their

For example, in the sentence 'My dog sleeps in her king-sized bed', the possessive determiners 'my' and 'her' show ownership over the noun. The dog belongs to me (my dog), and the bed belongs to the dog (her king-sized bed).

Possessive determiners also include possessive forms of nouns, pronouns, or noun phrases - we usually create these by adding the inflection '-s'. For example, 'the dog’s ball', 'Sarah’s coat', or 'the fat cat’s dinner'.

determiner possessive determiner StudySmarterThe dogs sleep in their bed - Pixabay

Interrogative determiners

Interrogative determiners are used to formulate questions. They help to specify what the question is about and what type of information is being asked for. There are three interrogative determiners in English:

  • what

  • which

  • whose

The interrogative determiner 'whose' asks the question 'who does the thing belong to?'. For example, 'Whose cat is stuck in the tree?' or 'Whose car is the quickest?'. The answer is often a person, eg. 'Sophie's cat is stuck in the tree'.

The interrogative determiner 'which' asks for someone to specify one or more person/things from a set of people/things. For example, 'Which colour do you prefer, blue or red?' or 'Which Friends character is your favourite?'. These sentences ask for a choice between a set of things.

The interrogative determiner 'what' asks for information about a noun. For example, 'What colour is her hair?' or 'What time is it?'. Here, the person is asking for more information about someone's hair colour, and more information about the time.

Remember that determiners always come before a noun or noun phrase. If the interrogative does not come before a noun but rather replaces the noun, e.g. 'whose is this?', then it is a pronoun.

Quantifiers

A quantifier is a word that gives information about the quantity of a noun, i.e. 'how much?' or 'how many?'. Like all determiners, they come in front of a noun or noun phrase. Some examples of quantifiers in English are:

  • everything

  • every

  • any

  • many

  • most

  • a few

  • some

  • a lot of

  • none

  • either

These are all words that give an idea of quantity on a scale of 0% (e.g none) to 100% ( e.g. all/every). For example, 'I have a lot of books in my room' or 'I've spent all my money on books'. In these sentences, the quantifier 'a lot of' comes before the noun 'books' and the quantifier 'all' comes before the noun phrase 'my money'.

Numbers as determiners

Demonstratives also include the cardinal numbers (e.g. one cup, two cups, three cups, etc.) which give information about the exact quantity of a noun. They can be thought of as counting numbers.

Demonstratives also include ordinal numbers such as 'first', 'second', 'third'. Ordinals describe the numerical position of the noun, often ending in 'th' or'nd' (eg. 'She won fourth prize', 'He bought his second cat', 'It is my thousandth day in lockdown').

Determiner - key takeaways

  • A determiner is a word that specifies a noun and gives more information about location, quantity, or ownership.
  • Determiners always come before a noun or a noun phrase. If the word replaces the noun then it is most likely to be a pronoun.
  • There are six main types of determiners; articles, demonstratives, possessive determiners, interrogative determiners, quantifiers, and determiners as numbers.
  • Articles are words that determine a noun. They are the/a/an.
  • Demonstrative determiners point to the thing that they mention. They are this/these/that/those.
  • Possessive determiners show ownership. For example, my/his/hers/their.
  • Interrogative determiners are used to formulate questions. They are whose.what/which
  • Quantifiers give information about the quantity of a noun. They include words such as some, any, none/all as well as cardinal and ordinal numbers (e.g. one, two, three, first, second, third).

Frequently Asked Questions about Determiner

A determiner is a word that specifies a noun and gives more information about location, quantity, or ownership. Determiners always come before a noun or a noun phrase.

Examples of determiners include articles (a, an, the), demonstrative determiners (this, that, these, those), possessive determiners (my, yours, his), interrogative determiners (what, which, whose), quantifiers (all, many, a few), cardinal numbers (one, two, three), and ordinal numbers (first, second, third).

Determiners always come before a noun or a noun phrase to give extra information about its location, quantity, or ownership.

There are six main types of determiner; these consist of articles, demonstratives, possessive determiners, interrogative determiners, quantifiers, and determiners as numbers.

In the following sentence;

'The dog didn't like that brand of food.'

The determiners are 'the' and 'that'.

Final Determiner Quiz

Question

What does a determiner provide information about?

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Answer

Determiners provide extra information about location, quantity, or ownership.

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Question

Determiners can stand alone in a sentence. True or false?

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Answer

False. Determiners always come before a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence.

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Question

Name the 6 types of determiner.


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Answer

The 6 types of determiner are articles, demonstratives, possessive determiners, interrogative determiners, quantifiers, and determiners as numbers.

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Question

What are the two types of articles?


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Answer

The two types of articles are definite articles and indefinite articles.

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Question

Is the article ‘the’ the definite article or the indefinite article?


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Answer

The article ‘the’ is the definite article. It is used before nouns that have previously been mentioned, or are presumed to be known by the reader.


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Question

Name the 2 forms of the indefinite article.


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Answer

The indefinite article is a or an.

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Question

Demonstrative determiners ‘point to’ the noun or noun phrase that they mention. True or false?


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Answer

True. Demonstrative determiners are used to specify the noun or noun phrase that it mentions e.g. ‘This cat’ or ‘those cats’.

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Question

Which of the following demonstrative determiners suggest proximity and which suggest distance?

  • this

  • that

  • these

  • those

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Answer

The demonstrative determiners that suggest proximity are ‘this’ and ‘these’. The demonstrative determiners that suggest distance are ‘that’ and ‘those’.  

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Question

What are possessive determiners?


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Answer

Possessive determiners are determiners that show ownership e.g. my, his, its, our.

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Question

Complete the following sentence with the suitable possessive determiner: ‘Jack took ___ girlfriend to visit ___ parents’. 


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Answer

‘He took his girlfriend to visit his parents’ (‘her’ parents also makes sense depending on who they’re visiting). Here the possessive determiners show that the girlfriend and the parents ‘belong’ to Jack.

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Question

Name the 3 interrogative determiners.


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Answer

The 3 interrogative determiners are ‘what’, ‘which’, and ‘whose’.

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Question

Complete the following sentence with the suitable interrogative determiner: ‘_____ coat is yours?’ 


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Answer

The interrogative determiner is ‘which’ as in ‘which coat is yours’. ‘Which’ suggests that there is a set of coats to choose from.

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Question

What does a quantifier do?


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Answer

A quantifier is a determiner that gives information about the quantity of a noun, i.e. ‘how much?’ or ‘how many?’. For example, ‘most’, ‘some’, ‘a few’.

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Question

Which of the following are types of determiners?

  • nominal numbers

  • ordinal numbers

  • horizontal numbers

  • cardinal numbers

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Answer

Cardinal numbers and ordinal numbers can both be used as determiners.

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Question

Give an example of a cardinal number and an example of an ordinal number.


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Answer

Cardinal numbers are counting numbers (1, 2, 3, 50, 99, etc.). Ordinal numbers describe position (first, second, third, fiftieth, ninety-ninth, etc.).

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Question

True or false, determiners can replace a noun?

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Answer

False. They must go before a noun.

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Question

Is the word in bold a determiner?

'This is mine'

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Answer

No. It has replaced the noun so is a pronoun.


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Question

Identify the type of determiner:

'What time do you call this?'

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Answer

Interrogative determiner

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Question

Identify the type of determiner:

'I have eleven cats'

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Answer

Cardinal number

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Question

Identify the type of determiner:

'The sun is too hot today'


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Answer

Definite article

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