Determiners

Determiners form a class of words that occur in the left-most position inside noun phrases. They thus precede nouns, as well as any adjectives that may be present.

The most common determiners are the and a/an (these are also called the definite aticle and indefinite article).

Here are some more determiners:

  • any taxi
  • that question
  • those apples
  • this paper
  • some apple
  • whatever taxi
  • whichever taxi

As these examples show, determiners can have various kinds of 'specifying' functions. For example, they can help us to identify which person or thing the noun refers to. So, if in a conversation with you I talk about that man you will know who I am talking about. In the following examples the determiners specify a quantity:

  • all examples
  • both parents
  • many people
  • each person
  • every night
  • several computers
  • few excuses
  • enough water
  • no escape

Be aware that the following items belong to the class of pronouns when they occur on their own (e.g. I like this very much), but when they occur before nouns (e.g. this book) they belong to both the determiner and pronoun classes:

  • this/that
  • these/those

What about possessive my, your, his/her, our, and their when they occur before nouns, as in my book, her bicycle?

The National Curriculum Glossary has examples like her book in the entries for ‘possessive’, ‘pronoun' and ‘determiner’, which seems to suggest that they belong to both classes, i.e. deteminer and pronoun. In our grammar videos (https://www.youtube.com/user/engliciousgrammar), especially videos 2 and 3, we hedge our bets and say that her belongs to both classes, i.e. it’s both a determiner and a pronoun, because this is what then NC seems to be claiming. (See also 'Advanced'.) However, in the GPS tests for KS1 and KS2 it is always assumed that these words are determiners, not pronouns, despite what it says in the glossary.

The words mine, yours, his/hers, ours and theirs (e.g.That phone is mine) occur on their own and we take them to be pronouns.

Determiners can sometimes be modified themselves, usually by a preceding modifier, examples being [almost every] night and [very many] people.

Here are some more words acting as determiners. These examples are drawn directly from the ICE-GB corpus. Refreshing your screen will produce a new list of examples. Which noun does each determiner point at, and what does each determiner tell us about the noun?

  • In those circumstances said Mr Grey uh it uh would be unfair uh to and unjust to allow the plaintiff to amend his statement of claim now [S2A-064 #24]
  • I ’ll bring a bottle of wine anyway with me [S1A-048 #116]
  • but uh there ’s a Jewish tradition of uh scholarship in which after a certain stage you just have to get stuck in to public life  [S1B-047 #14]
  • Another example relates to overhead. [W1B-029 #100]
  • Don’t say anything just for a minute please because you ’re very courteous and you ’ll try and talk [S1A-022 #366]
  • Smear the exposed thread of the cable end with multipurpose grease to prevent corrosion. [W2D-018 #31]
  • Soon science fiction authors started to write stories which included the potential uses for this proposed invention. [W2B-034 #11]
  • To try and put that into some sort of context one authority Lothian is owed ninety-five million pounds which is equivalent to what we actually spend every year on our social work bud budget [S1B-034 #109]
  • nor could anthropology because all it revealed was the immense variety of pictures different societies have had of the good  [S2B-029 #89]
  • He ’s probably the cleverest man I ’ve ever met  [S2A-023 #51]

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