Determiners are a part of speech that you use every day in your speaking and writing—no doubt about it, whether you're aware of it or not. So let's take this time to learn a little more about determiners: what they are, what they look like, the different types, and how to use them.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
Determiners are little words you can use in your sentences to give more indication about the noun. They can tell you who something belongs to, how many there are, or which specific thing is being referred to.
In a noun phrase, you should always place the determiner before the noun, and the adjective, if there is one.
Determiners are divided into their own smaller categories to help you distinguish them. We're going to go ahead and learn about these different types of determiners, but before we start, it's important to note that many determiners will also belong to other parts of speech. That's okay. It's the beauty of the English language and also what makes it sometimes a frustrating language to learn. Words are versatile, and they don't like sticking to just one category or following the rules to a fault.
The biggest debate around determiners is whether or not they are the same thing as adjectives. Let me confirm: they are not. While many determiners are adjectives (for example: 'my'), not all of them are.
Here are some of the main differences between determiners and adjectives:
Now we've got that out of the way; it's time to learn about the different types of determiners. Let's dive in.
There are three articles in the English language:
'A' and 'an' are indefinite articles, meaning they refer to something unspecific or that hasn't been mentioned yet. They can only be used with singular nouns. 'The' is a definite article and can be used with both singular and plural nouns when referring to something specific or that has already been mentioned.
These nifty little words are also commonly called determiners. Not all determiners are articles, but all articles are determiners. That helps keep things simple, doesn't it?
Here are some examples of article determiners (underlined) in a sentence, with the noun they modify (in bold).
A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.
I'm taking an extra long break.
Have you had a chance to go by the store yet?
Notice how in the second sentence, two adjectives precede the noun 'break,' but the article 'an' is first. That's because the determiner always comes first.
Possessive determiners are also known as possessive adjectives and are used to denote possession. Want to know what or whom it belongs to? The possessive determiner will tell you. They are:
These are not to be confused with possessive pronouns, such as 'mine' or 'theirs.'
Here are some example sentences that use a possessive determiner (underlined) to modify a noun (in bold).
Let me give you a tour of my home.
I'm her best friend; who are you?
My toddler can't go to sleep without his cuddly bear.
Also known as demonstrative adjectives, demonstrative determiners are the 'pointing' of language. That's right; when you point at something, you indicate to your interlocutor which object or person you're referring to. Demonstrative determiners do that with language. They help you be clearer on which specific thing you're talking about.
Here are some examples of demonstrative determiners (underlined) modifying a noun (in bold).
Jackie, you can sit in this chair next to me and John, you take that one on the other side of the table.
These are my children.
Who brought those chocolate eclairs?
Quantifying determiners are any determiner that gives information about amounts. That includes:
Here are some sentence examples:
I'm not really interested in either option.
This is the second time I've asked you to turn your music down.
I don't know many people at this party.
Determiners also work with questions. That's right; you can ask someone to be more specific about the thing they are talking about by using one of the following interrogative determiners:
Let's see what that looks like in a sentence.
What is your favorite movie?
Which restaurant would you prefer to go to?
Whose glass is this?
Determiners of difference are used to talk about something that is different from the thing discussed previously or the option previously given.
There are three:
Note that the third one is a combination of two determiners: 'the' and 'other.' Neat, huh?
Now let's look at some examples of how you might use these determiners of difference in a sentence.
There are other things on my mind right now.
Do you have another dress to wear? You can't wear white at a wedding!
The other option we have is to grab a snack now and eat dinner when we arrive.
There you have it! You now know what a determiner is and how to use them. Let's summarize what we've learned:
If you found this article helpful and would like to learn about more grammar concepts, head to our Grammar Book.
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