Determiners are one of the many parts of speech in the English language. But what is a determiner in grammar? That’s a good and complex question so I’m going to break it down as much as I can. Basically, it specifies noun modifiers, adjectives, and noun phrases that follow them. But let’s dig deeper.
Keep reading to know the definition and different types of determiners through determiner examples. I’ll also show you the rules on correct determiner usage.
What is a Determiner?
A determiner is a part of speech found before nouns or a noun phrase to show a specific quantity. Determiners also clarify what the word after is referring to. Remember that there are six types of determiners:
- Demonstrative determiner.
- Possessive determiner.
A determiner is always required when you’re introducing singular nouns. But if you are discussing plural nouns, determiners are optional.
What are the Six Types of Determiners?
In traditional grammar, we can group determiners into six.
Demonstrative determiners or demonstrative adjectives are a type of adjective that shows where the noun or pronoun is, based on the speaker. Some determiner examples are this, that, these, and those. Notice how demonstrative pronouns have an overlap with determiners.
Use this and that before singular nouns. This is for an item that the speaker is close to or holding. Meanwhile, that points to a distant object.
Use these and those before plural nouns. These is for items that the speaker is close to or holding. Those points to multiple distant objects.
There is a massive difference between adjectives and pronouns. Remember that demonstrative pronouns do not have nouns after them. Meanwhile, demonstrative determiners have nouns after them, whether it’s an abstract noun or concrete noun.
Examples of Demonstrative Determiners in Sentences
- That meal was so unforgettable that I sometimes dream about it.
- Is this paper yours?
- Those books were owned by the founder of this organization.
Articles are the most common determiners you’ll find in several sentences. They include a, an, and the. The is a common determiner, also known as a definite article, while a and an are indefinite articles.
We use indefinite articles for non-specific names, while definite articles are for specific ones. For example, because there is only one sun in the solar system, we say the sun instead of a sun.
Use a if the following noun has a consonant sound and an for vowel sounds. For instance, we say an apple and a raspberry.
Examples of Articles in Sentences
- An appleaday keeps the doctor away.
- A warm light bulb will make your bedroom appear cozier.
- The man next door introduced himself to Ruby.
A possessive adjective or determiner in English shows possession of the noun or noun phrase before it. Remember that possessive pronouns are a type of personal pronoun that replace whole noun phrases, while possessive determiners exist with nouns and noun phrases.
The possessive determiners are:
- My (singular, first person).
- Your (singular or plural, second person).
- His (singular, third person, male).
- Her (singular, third person, female).
- Its (singular, third person, object).
- Our (plural, first person).
- Their (plural/singular, third person).
Examples of Possessive Determiners in Sentences
- You should visit my house this weekend.
- Our goal is to help improve the quality of life without spending a lot.
- That plate has her favorite pattern.
Quantifiers are determiners that state the quantity of something without showing the specific number. They usually answer, “how much” and “how many.” More, much, less and few are common quantifiers you might encounter.
Below is a list of determiners that fall under quantifiers.
- A few.
- A little.
Examples of Quantifiers in Sentences
- Many people went to the fair last month.
- We need to spend more time together.
- Some priests walked with the nuns.
Numbers or numerals are determiners that appear before a noun. These determiners might be the easiest to spot. Some examples of phrases with numbers include three flavors, twenty-two candles, and six instruments.
Examples of Numbers in Sentences
- I received eighteen gifts on my eighteenth birthday.
- The three chicks followed their mother hen.
- She has ninety-nine problems, but her looks aren’t one of them.
Ordinals are also expressed in numbers but show sequence. For instance, instead of saying three flavors, you might refer to the third flavor.
A variation of ordinals includes words that do not have numbers. However, they are related to first, second, third, etc. These determiners are called general ordinals. Like ordinals, numerals, and other determiners, they also appear before nouns.
Some examples of phrases with general ordinals include next week and previous game.
Examples of Ordinals in Sentences
- The tenth president said, “Wealth can only be accumulated by the earnings of industry and the savings of frugality.”
- Our third day in Bali was a bittersweet moment.
- The next son will be named Joseph.
What are the Rules of Determiners?
There are several issues with determiners in English grammar. It’s best to follow these rules for the correct usage of determiners.
When Writing Job Titles
If the office name or job title is used as a common noun or for its dictionary definition, you don’t have to use a capital letter. But when you are referring to a specific person or a specific job title, use capital letters. For example:
- The Queen was a queen for the people.
The first Queen is capitalized in the sentence above because it refers to a proper noun. But the second one uses lowercase letters because it is used in a common noun.
Fewer vs. Less
Less and fewer are common quantifiers that might look the same but have different functions. The general rule is to use less with singular nouns and fewer for plural nouns. For example:
- Incorrect: Less people are going to the supermarket.
Correct: Fewer people are going to the supermarket.
- Incorrect: I’ve been drinking fewer soda.
Correct: I’ve been drinking less soda.
Another essential tip to remember is that less is not always a determiner. In fact, even if it comes before a noun, it’s not always a determiner. Consider the example below.
- The less you know, the better. (Less does not modify you).
All The vs. All of The
We think all of the is accurate because it’s similar to one of the and some of the. Make your writing more concise by saying all the instead of all of the. Check out this quote from Abraham Lincoln.
- You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
But the rule doesn’t apply to the determiner my. All of my and all my are correct, but all of my may sound better in your sentences.
Pre-determiners come before determiners. They commonly come before a, an, and the. But you can also find it before other determiners. For example:
- She is twice his age.
The main determiner in the sentence is his, a possessive determiner. Twice is the pre-determiner, which is a multiplier.
Post-determiners are words after determiners that modify a noun phrase. Consider the sentence below.
- I found these ten beakers in the laboratory.
Here, two is a post-determiner that functions as a number. The main determiner is ten.
Using a Singular Non-Gender-Specific Possessive Determiner
English doesn’t have a singular possessive determiner that is gender-neutral aside from it. But it sounds unacceptable for a person. You can use their instead of his/her as recommended by various style guides. For example:
- Every parent deserves a break from their household duties.
Ensure the Demonstrative Determiner and Its Corresponding Noun Match
It’s easy to understand that this and that are for singular nouns, while these and those are for plural nouns. But it can be difficult if the noun phrase is long. For example:
- These kinds of gadgets. (These modifies the plural noun kinds).
Using Determiners with Count and Uncountable Nouns
You already know that determiners precede nouns. But we cannot use determiners with any types of nouns. The following are some determiners that come before singular countable nouns.
These determiners also come before plural countable nouns.
Lastly, uncountable nouns use the following determiners.
Make Demonstrative Pronouns Clearer By Adding a Noun
Demonstrative pronouns stand alone in sentences without modifying nouns. You can make your writing clearer by turning it into a demonstrative determiner and adding a noun. For example:
- That is important.
That assignment is important.
To Spell Out Numerals or Not?
The general rule in formal writing is to spell the numbers one to nine. But if the number goes higher, either spell it out or write the actual number. For example:
- Incorrect: She gave me 7 tips on how to write better essays.
Correct: She gave me seven tips on how to write better essays.
- Correct: I have thirteen magazines.
Correct: I have 13 magazines.
This rule also depends on the style guide and genre you’re following. For instance, if you write business or technical documents, it’s better to use numerals instead of the words.
On Capitalizing “The”
Some names start with the, which require capitalization. For instance, we say The Beatles instead of the Beatles.
But when referring to common nouns and proper nouns without the, you don’t need to capitalize the. That’s why we say the Arctic Monkeys’ album instead of The Arctic Monkeys’ album.
Hyphenate Numbers Twenty-One to Ninety-Nine When Spelling Out
If you’ve decided to spell out larger numbers, hyphenate them. The only numbers you shouldn’t hyphenate are multiples of ten, such as ninety, seventy, and sixty. Here are some examples.
- 75 = seventy-five.
- 234 = two hundred and thirty-four.
- 80 = eighty.
- 8989 = eight thousand nine hundred eighty-nine.
British English typically uses and when writing numbers, while American English doesn’t. That means you write two hundred and thirty-four for British English and two hundred thirty-four for American English.
Are Determiners Adjectives?
There’s a debate in the grammar world on whether this part of speech is a subclass of adjectives. Most of the time, we consider determiners a separate part of speech but with the same function as an adjective.
However, many modern grammarians think that determiners are not adjectives. It can be confusing because we still use terms like possessive adjectives and demonstrative adjectives.
Whatever the consensus is, let’s talk about the difference between adjectives and determiners.
First, determiners do not have a comparative form. For instance, the and first don’t have comparative forms.
A writer or speaker cannot remove determiners from sentences like adjectives. Instead of saying I had a great night, you can still say I had a night despite the change in meaning. But you can’t say I had great night because it’s grammatically incorrect.
Lastly, determiners can have antecedents while adjectives can’t. For example, in the statement, the tall woman approached my counter, tall does not refer back to the noun herons. However, my refers back to the counter.
Final Word on Determiners
There are big differences between ordinary adjectives and determiners. A determiner is a part of speech that modifies nouns or noun equivalents, often having an antecedent. It can be demonstrative possessive, quantifier, numeral, or ordinal.
I hope this grammar resource I made helped you get a grasp of determiners. Understanding this part of speech lets you avoid embarrassing grammar mistakes.