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?

  • So they could only exploit the environment as it stands. [W1A-011 #41]
  • Apart from large demonstrations by the unemployed, other London boroughs were threatening to withhold their precepts. [W2B-019 #87]
  • The former Prime Minister Mr Edward Heath has said more than fifty British hostages could be freed by Iraq next week [S2B-006 #28]
  • And to reinforce that commitment while without without necessarily sharing the same beliefs on the whole as Christians [S1A-071 #241]
  • It was good to find that large building societies are beginning to tackle the graduate market seriously and we were impressed by the calibre of the recent graduates which we met over lunch and afterwards. [W1B-026 #39]
  • So every time she comes in now Will dives for the back of the shop  [S1A-027 #245]
  • Saddam Hussein did not do that on his own [S1B-036 #22]
  • I ’ve actually had the full no claims bonus for five years [S1B-080 #283]
  • In the sedimentary rocks there are many features which may be present to decide the way-up of a rock. [W1A-020 #6]
  • Despite having criticised the local authority for not uh taking on as many disabled people as they should they do over and above the private sector have a more opportunity policy [S1B-062 #164]

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