Determiners (Meaning, Types and Functions of Determiners).

determiner is a word that is used in front of a noun or pronoun to give some information

about it. Formerly, determiners were classified as adjectives. However, because, unlike adjectives, determiners do not, strictly speaking ‘describe’ a noun or pronoun, the modern grammatical practice is to draw a distinction between them. Thus, the category determiner has been created.

Types of Determiners

Definite and Indefinite Articles

The definite and indefinite articles are often categorized as determiners.

Definite Article

The definite article is the and it can be used in various ways. It can be used in a sentence to refer back to a person or thing that has already been mentioned or identified.

In the following sentences the is used in this way:

  1. Mrs Brown gave birth to a boy and the boy was called John.
  2. I was asked to choose a restaurant and the restaurant I chose was The Olive Tree.
  3. Father bought a new dog and the dog is a Labrador.

The definite article can also be used to identify someone or something as the only one of its kind. In the following sentences the is used in this way:

  1. He is reading the Bible.
  2. Tourists often visit the Tower of London.
  3. He has been declared the new Prime Minister of the UK.

The definite article is used to refer to a whole class or group of things or people. In the following sentences the is used in this way:

  1. Lions belong to the big cats.
  2. She really does not like the English.
  3. Because of a long-lasting family feud the Smiths did not speak to the Simpsons at John and Jane’s wedding.

Less commonly, the definite article can be used to indicate the unique quality of someone or something.

In this context the is emphasized and is pronounced thee. In the following sentences the is used in this way:

  1. In the sixties it was the restaurant to go to in London.
  2. It is currently the city venue for fashionable wedding receptions.
  3. The musical is the show to see this Christmas.

Indefinite Article

The form of the indefinite article is either or an. The form is used before words that begin with a consonant sound such as a box, a garden, a road, a star, a wall. The form an is used before words that begin with an initial vowel sound such as an apple, an egg, an iglooan ostrich, an uncle.

NB: It’s the sound that counts

It is the sound of the initial letter and not the spelling that counts in this case. Thus, is used before words beginning with the letter when these are pronounced as though they began with the consonant y, as a unit. Similarly, an is used before words beginning with the letter where this is not pronounced, as an heir, an hour, an honest man.

Formerly it was quite common to use an before words which begin with the sound and also begin with an unstressed syllable, as an hotel, an historic occasion, an habitual criminal and an hereditary disease. Nowadays, it is more usual to use in these cases, as in a hotel, a historic occasion, a habitual criminal, a hereditary disease.

The indefinite article can also be used in various ways.

It can be used in the same way as the adjective one. In the following sentences a/an is used in this way:

  1. The town is exactly a mile away.
  2. We waited an hour for the bus to come.
  3. A year ago we were happy, but things have changed.

NB: Just the one

If you wish to stress that you are referring to just one of something, rather than to several, you use the pronunciation ay to rhyme with hay, as in:

  1. I wanted a (ay) biscuit, not a packet of them.
  2. It’s OK to have a (ay) drink, but you will certainly not be fit to drive if you have half a bottle of wine.

The indefinite article is also used to refer to or single out a specific person or thing. In the following sentences a/an is used in this way:

  1. Jim married a girl called Mary from the next village.
  2. The family had a black cat called Sooty.
  3. Sue is going out with a young man called Tom.

The indefinite article is also used with an indefinite meaning, in the same way that any is. In the

following sentence a/an is used in this way:

  1. He was as big as a house.
  2. An island is a piece of land entirely surrounded by water.
  3. A paediatrician is a doctor who specializes in children’s illnesses.

The indefinite article is also used in the following way, with the word ‘for’ implied but omitted before it:

  1. The grapes are £3 a kilo.
  2. The gardener will charge you £12 an hour.
  3. The cake is £2 a slice.

NB: Zero article

The absence of both the definite or indefinite articles is sometimes referred to as zero article. The following sentences contain examples of this:

  1. We went by train.
  2. He is in hospital.
  3. Have you had lunch?
  4. She’s at work.

Demonstrative Determiners

Formerly known as demonstrative adjectives, demonstrative determiners are used to point out or indicate the nouns which they qualify.

The demonstrative determiners are this, that, these and those, as in this book, that house, these flowers and those girls.

In the following sentences the underlined words are examples of demonstrative determiners:

  1. This cake is absolutely delicious.
  2. I do admire those flowers.
  3. I used to live in that house.
  4. These students are all taking the exam.
  5. I love this dress, but I can’t afford it.
  6. Who is that man over there?
  7. Why are those people laughing at us?
  8. These trees are huge.
  9. Those red grapes are delicious.
  10. These green grapes are sour.

Possessive Determiners

When you wish to indicate that something belongs to someone or something or that it is connected in some way with someone or something you use the possessive determiners my, our, your, his/her/its,their. Formerly, possessive determiners were commonly known as possessive adjectives. In the following sentences the underlined words are possessive determiners:

  1. I would like my book back, please.
  2. Where are your children?
  3. Dad let me borrow his car.
  4. He was brushing his teeth.
  5. She looks very like her mother.
  6. Unfortunately, the dog broke its leg in the accident.
  7. The children loved their new bikes.

Indefinite Determiners

The indefinite determiners, also called general determiners, are used to qualify nouns or pronouns when you are talking about people or things in a general or indefinite way, without identifying them.

The indefinite or general determiners include all, any, both, each, either, every, few, little, less, many, much, more, neither, no, several, some and neither, as underlined in the following sentences:

  1. Any room in the hotel will do.
  2. Both students are to blame.
  3. Neither house is really suitable.
  4. Either bus will take you to the village.
  5. Every car has been damaged.
  6. Many books were destroyed in the fire.
  7. Few patients have survived such an operation.
  8. No facts are known yet.
  9. Some gardens are beautifully kept.
  10. Several buses go into the centre of town.
  11. Little information has been released.
  12. We have enough children to start a new class.
  13. He does not have enough knowledge.
  14. He has no more work.
  15. There have been more accidents on that stretch of road.
  16. Are there any jobs available?

Number Determiners

Numbers when they are used before a noun are sometimes classified as determiners, and sometimes as adjectives. Numbers such as one, two, ten, twenty, etc are called cardinal numbers, while numbers such as first, second, tenth, twentieth, etc are called ordinal numbers.

  1. In the following sentences the underlined words are cardinal numbers:
  2. We only have one chance to succeed.
  3. There are seven people in the house.
  4. More than sixty soldiers died in the battle.
  5. There are five hundred and fifty pupils in the school.

In the following sentences the underlined words are ordinal numbers:

  1. This is the third time he’s been in prison.
  2. This is the little girl’s fourth birthday.
  3. They’re celebrating their twenty-fifthwedding anniversary.


Which of the underlined adjectives in the following sentences are attributive and which are predicative?

  1. It was a delightful trip.
  2. The bride was beautiful.
  3. She has an interesting job.
  4. The job was boring.
  5. The meal was delicious.
  6. The basket was full of ripe fruit.
  7. The dog was safely behind iron gates.
  8. The hungry children ate all the food quickly.
  9. They aren’t busy today.
  10. The violent man was arrested by the police.
  11. The weather was very pleasant.
  12. The carpet was red.
  13. The difficult task took a long time.
  14. The white dress stained very easily.
  15. She combed her long hair.
  16. Her eyes were brown.
  17. They do a useful job.

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