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?

  • Firstly, these NIC’s started developing their industrial strategies before other less developed nations and at times when the worldwide economic climate was conducive to substantial growth. [W1A-014 #45]
  • Uhm well a sense of values show you how to do things to uhm help with giving you direction give you a kind of a uhm support in some areas uhm instil a sense of responsibility teach you how to do uhm grown up things  [S1A-072 #127]
  • Yeah yeah it ’s it ’s not bad if if they can get a you know somebody can get a score tomorrow [S1A-095 #96]
  • And they figured out that basically in England in the British Isles there are twenty-three different types of woodland  [S1A-036 #221]
  • Family Credit is paid for out of the Social Security scheme to which everyone contributes in the form of taxes. [W2D-005 #8]
  • But at least it ’s the first our first experience of doing an independent production [S1B-042 #206]
  • It ’s balanced by the heat loss to space and it and it ’s an extremely good balance  [S2A-043 #119]
  • Now this captures the hierarchical nature of the kinds of claims that Firthian prosodic analysts make and that we want to represent [S2A-030 #102]
  • So from now on the new buzz words in your life must be ‘mechanical loading’, which means giving your bones and muscles plenty to do. [W2B-022 #37]
  • So Ogrizovitch through the middle for Coventry to lead by a goal to nil [S2A-017 #155]

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