Determiners in English grammar

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Determiners in English grammar

The term “determiner” refers to a grammatical form which is used to indicate further information about a noun. Like adjectives, they can express information such as quantity, proximity, definiteness, and relationship. Moreover, determiners are considered as “modifying words” that specify the type of reference that a particular noun has. They are commonly placed before a noun or a noun phrase, in order to indicate whether the speaker is referring to a specific thing or to something of a particular kind.

I. Difference Between Determiners and Adjectives

Determiners and adjectives are related in such a way that they both modify a noun or a noun phrase. However, the main difference between the two is that determiners are placed before nouns and introduce them to the audience, while adjectives modify nouns by providing further details about them. Another difference between the two is that determiners cannot be graded unlike adjectives, which can be expressed in different intensities. For instance, an object may be big, bigger, or biggest. However, it cannot be “that-est” or “the-est.” Furthermore, adjectives are only optional parts of a sentence, while determiners are necessary and indispensable.

II. The Uses of Determiners

Determiners can serve a variety of purposes in sentences and can have different meanings. However, in general, all determiners are used to clarify a noun or a noun phrase. One of the most common functions of determiners is to define or demonstrate an object or a person. For instance, it can show whether the noun that is mentioned in the sentence is something specific or unspecific. Another common purpose of this grammatical form, is that it can also indicate the differences between nouns.

Although there are also other functions of determiners such as for expressing quantity, possession, and questions, most of these purposes are related to the two key areas mentioned earlier. It is not that difficult to understand determiners because they are commonly used in written and verbal English. In order to fully grasp the concept, it is also advisable to study about the different types of determiners which are presented in the next section.

III. Different Kinds of Determiners

There are different kinds of determiners and each one serves a different function. These types include articles, quantifiers, demonstratives, possessives, and interrogatives.


There are only three examples of articles, and these are: the, a, and an. The article “the” is considered as a definite article because it refers to a particular noun that is mentioned in the text, while the articles “a” and “an” are called indefinite articles because they point out to a class of noun mentioned in the sentence.

The indefinite articles “a” and “an” have the same function, but they are not interchangeable. The former is used if it precedes a noun that starts with a consonant (e.g., a bike; a gadget; a television), while the latter is used if the noun after it starts with a vowel (e.g., an eggplant; an architect; an umbrella).

Sample Sentences:

The Eiffel Tower is a romantic destination.
Johnny is an Englishman.
Ethan is studying to be an engineer.


As the name suggests, quantifiers are used to express the quantity. It can answer the questions, “How much?” or “How many?” Some examples of quantifiers include: a few, enough, many, a little, most, some, any, and much.

Sample Sentences:

I have enough money.
We have much time.
She has few friends.


This kind of determiners demonstrates and functions as pointers of a particular noun. Basically, demonstratives indicate the position or location of a noun from the point of view of the speaker. Some examples of demonstratives include: this, these, that, and those.

The demonstrative “this” is used for singular nouns that are near the speaker, while “these” is for plural nouns that are also close by. On the other hand, the demonstrative “that” is for a singular noun that is further away, and “those” is for plural nouns that are also far from the speaker.

Sample Sentences:

This laptop is mine.
That car is my uncle’s.
These cookies taste great.


This type of determiners is used to express possession or ownership of a noun. Possessive determiners are different from possessive pronouns, because possessive pronouns can be independent or can stand alone. Some examples of possessives include: my, his, mine, our, their, and her.

Sample Sentences:

This is my car.
Is this his house?
Her mom is very pretty.


As the term implies, the interrogative determiners are used for asking questions. The three examples of interrogatives are: what, whose, and which.

Sample Sentences:

What toppings do you want for your frozen yogurt?
Which school do you prefer?
Whose baby are you watching?

Some more examples

Definite article : the
Indefinite articles : a, an
Demonstratives: this, that, these, those
Pronouns and possessive determiners : my, your, his, her, its, our, their
Quantifiers : a few, a little, much, many, a lot of, most, some, any, enough
Numbers : one, ten, thirty
Distributive : all, both, half, either, neither, each, every
Difference words : other, another
Pre-determiners : such, what, rather, quite

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