Determiners – Definition

If you’re asking the question, ‘what are determiners?’, then it’s possible you’re asking what purpose do they serve in regards to English grammar.

As for the definition, determiners are words placed in front of a noun to make it clear as to what the noun is referring to.

Definite Articles: When to use “The”

The purpose of ‘the’ article is to refer to something that was already mentioned. There must be a mutual understanding between the speaker and listener as to what noun the speaker is referring to.

  • Last week there was a huge bank heist, the robber stole a lot of money.
  • There was a crazy wildfire that broke out last year, the fire is destroyed most of the forest.

You may also use ‘the’ to assume there is one of something that should be in that place, regardless if it was mentioned or not.

  • I went to the convenience store to buy some snacks.
  • I went to the airport to pick up my mom, she just arrived from Europe.

You may also use ‘the’ in a sentence to identify a particular place, person or object.

  • The man looking for you is outside your office.
  • I left my bag next to the chair you sat in.
  • My nephew is the boy everyone kept complaining about.

You may also use ‘the’ to refer to people or objects that are unique.

  • Last night’s concert was amazing, the singer left everyone speechless.
  • The Terminator was ruthless in his hunt for John Conner.
  • The groom is coming late to the party.

You may also use ‘the’ with superlatives and ordinal numbers.

  • My friend is the worst singer ever.
  • He is the fourth person to ask me that same question!
  • That’s the last time I’m going to meet Fred!

You may also use ‘the´ with adjectives that refer to a whole group of people.

  • The Chinese were the first people to invent gunpowder.
  • My grandfather is always generous when he gives to the poor.
  • The elites of society own 40% of all wealth.

You may also use ‘the’ with decades or centuries.

  • The 90’s had some of the best music of our generation.
  • Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the greatest minds during the 1500’s.

You may also use ‘the’ with clauses introduced by only

  • She is the only person who can understand me.
  • My birthday is the only day I celebrate.

Proper Nouns

You may use ‘the’ along with names of geographical areas, rivers, mountain ranges, groups of islands, canals, seas and oceans.

  • The Rocky Mountains is one of the best places to visit in Canada and US.
  • The Mississippi River is one of the longest rivers around.

You may also use ‘the’ with countries that have plural names or that include words such as ‘republic’, ‘kingdom’, or ‘states’ in their names.

  • The United States is one of the most economically successful countries in the west.
  • The Philippines is an archipelago made up of thousands of islands.

You may use ‘the’ with names of newspapers, famous buildings, works of art, museums, monuments, hotels, and restaurants.

  • The Vancouver Sun is one of the popular newspaper distributors in Canada.
  • The White House is where the president of the United States resides.
  • The Mona Lisa is one of Da Vinci’s finest work, you can find it in the Louvre.
  • The Lincoln Memorial can be found in Washington D.C.
  • The Ritz Carlton Hotel is one of the finest.
  • The Fat Cow is one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants.

 You may also use ‘the’ when referring to a family, not as an individual.

  • We’re going on a camping trip with the Peters today.
  • The Rothchild are a prominent family.

When not to use “The”

Don’t use it with names of countries (unless they meet the requirements from above).

  • I come from Canada.

Do not use it with names of languages.

  • I can speak Spanish.

Do not use it with the names of meals.

  • He enjoys eating dinner.

Do not use it with people’s names.

  • I’m going to watch a movie with Jenny.

Do not use it with titles that’s combined with a name.

  • President Lincoln was a famous man.

Do not use it after the possessive case.

  • My brother’s car was stolen.

Do not use it with names of shops or brands that don’t specify ‘the’.

  • McDonald’s is my favorite fast-food joint.

Do not use it with years.

  • 1986 was the year I was born.

Do not use it with uncountable nouns.

  • Milk is one of the healthiest beverages you can drink.

Do not use it with individual mountains, lakes, and islands.

  • Victoria Island is one of the most beautiful places in British Columbia.
  • I used to walk around Como Lake before.
  • Mount Baker used to be an old volcano.

Do not use it with most names of towns, streets, stations and airports.

  • My mom went over to baker avenue.
  • I’m going to Incheon airport in Korea.
  • Let’s go to Waterfront station.

Indefinite Articles: When to use ‘A’ and ‘An’

There are two primary indefinite articles in English, ‘A’ and ‘An’. Their use depends on the first letter of the following word that comes after the article. This to make pronunciation easier. You should use ‘a’ when the next word starts with a consonant or variation of the word that makes it sound like a consonant. You should use ‘an’ when the following word starts with a vowel or a silent consonant that makes it sound like it starts with a vowel.

  • A man
  • An elephant
  • An honest opinion
  • A University student

You can use indefinites articles to refer something for the first time or to refer to a particular individual subject among a group.

  • He had a wonderful time at the party.
  • I’m an Asian man living in a western country.

Naming members of a group

You may use it with the name of a job.

  • I’m an engineer.
  • Kelly is a nurse.

You may also use it with religions and nationalities.

  • Kevin is a Christian.
  • Sally is a Canadian.

You may use it with the names of days of a week when not referring to a specific day.

  • Solomon Grundy was born on a Monday.
  • What if I drop by on a Tuesday?

You may use it singular nouns after the words ‘what’ and ‘such’.

  • What a surprise!
  • That’s such a shame!

You may use it when referring to a characteristic of something.

  • The clown had a scary smile.
  • The girl screamed with a loud voice.

When using a single noun, you may replace ‘one’ with ‘a or ‘an’. They can be used to refer to a single object, person, or unit of measurement.

  • I want a cup of water.
  • She gave me an orange.

Using ‘one’ in place of the indefinite article will emphasize on the singularity.

  • I want one cup of water.
  • She gave me one orange.

Demonstratives: When to use ‘This’, ‘That’, ‘These’, and ‘Those’

Demonstratives are words such as ‘this’ and ‘that’, used to indicate the distance of an object, event or person that is being referred to in relation to the speaker. They can be used to refer to distance regarding physical space, time, events or ideas.

  Close to the speaker Far from the speaker
Demonstrative + singular nouns
& uncountable nouns
This That
Demonstrative +
plural nouns
These Those

Demonstratives are placed BEFORE the noun or BEFORE the adjectives which describe the noun.

  • This house is going to be renovated next week.
  • That big house is going to be renovated next week.
  • These big blue houses are going to be renovated next week.
  • Those 10 big blue houses are going to be renovated next week.

Demonstratives can also be used BEFORE a number that is representing a noun understood from context.

  • Grab me those two over there.
  • This one is the best by far!

Demonstratives can also be used on their own when the noun being omitted is understood form context.

  • These apples don’t belong to you!
  • That excuse doesn’t make any sense.

Distributive Determiners

Distributive determiners are used to refer to a group of people, things, or ideas. They are also used to refer to individuals among a group.

Using ‘Each’ and ‘Every’ – What’s the difference?

These distributives can only be used with countable nouns. ‘Each’ expresses the individuality of a member in a group. ‘Every’ expresses the series of members within a group.

  • Each person is responsible for their own work.
  • Every person is responsible for their own work.

Each’ can be used with plural nouns when followed up with ‘of’. ‘Every’ CANNOT be used with plurals.

  • Each of us has a responsibility.
  • The man fed each of the dogs a treat.

Every’ can express different parts among a series, mostly used with time or places. Each can also be used.

  • Every day, I wake up and go to work.
  • Every country in South America has a Latin-based language.
  • I exercise 3 hours each morning to get in shape.
  • Each province in Canada is quite cold, with some exceptions.

Using ‘All’ as a distributive – Whole Group

All’ as a distributive is used to refer to an entire group. It focuses on the idea that the whole group is complete and has nothing left out.  They can be used with uncountable nouns and plural nouns on its own. However, it refers to the group as a figurative concept rather than as a literal example.

  • I love all children.
  • All fruits are healthy for us.

All’ can be used with plural pronouns or possessive pronouns if it has ‘of’ before the noun.

  • All of us are going to the party, why won’t you?
  • Stop taking all of her stuff!

All’ can also be used with uncountable nouns when accompanied with ‘the’, ‘this’, or ‘that’ during a question or an exclamation. However, with countable nouns, you’ll want to use ‘these’ or ‘those’. You may also add ‘of’if you choose to (doesn’t change the meaning).

  • What’s with all the commotion here?
  • Where did all this stuff come from?
  • Why did you throw away all of that food?
  • Take a look at all those trees!
  • When did all of these packages arrive?

Using ‘Half’ or other fractions as a distributive – Dividing a Group

Half’ as a distributive is used to refer to a whole group split in two. Other fractions such as ‘Quarter’ may also be used. There are several patterns on how fractions can be applied with ‘Half’ being the most common. The first use for ‘Half’ is with measurements when preceded by an indefinite article such as ‘a’ or ‘an’. You’ll have to use ‘of’ when pairing up with another fraction such as ‘Quarter’.

  • I drank half a bottle of juice.
  • He is half an inch taller than me.
  • He filled up the tub with quarter of a gallon of water.

Half’ can also accompany nouns preceded with a definite article (the), a, another demonstrative, or a possessive adjective. This will refer to n actual physical division. ‘of’ can also be added with no change to the meaning.

  • Half the class complained last week.
  • Half of those comments were positive!
  • Half of my stuff was moved to another room.

You may also use ‘Half’ with plural pronouns by accompanying it with ‘of’.

  • Half of them went to the party last night.
  • The teacher scolded half of us today.

Using ‘Both’ to pair objects

‘Both’ is used to equally refer to a pair of two as a whole. It can be used with plural nouns on its own, or it can be accompanied with ‘of’, along with or without an article. ‘Both’ cannot be used to refer to singular nouns as it refers to two things. Plural pronouns require ‘of’ to separate itself with ‘Both’.

  • Both students were successful in school.
  • Both the students were successful in school.
  • Both of the students were successful in school.
  • Both of them were successful in school.

Using ‘Either’ to positively distinguish one or another in a pair

Either’ means ‘one or the other’ within a pair. It refers to one of two parts in a pair and must be used with a singular noun. However, it may also be used with plural nouns or pronouns when followed up with ‘of’.

  • I can eat at either restaurant.
  • Either of them could have won the race.

Either’ can function like a conjunction when paired with ‘or’ to talk about each member of a pair. In this type of sentence, ‘either’ doesn’t function as a distributive.

  • He will go to either Japan or China for his vacation.
  • They will either play at an arcade or watch a movie for their date.

Using ‘Neither’ negatively distinguish one or another in a pair

Neither’ functions similar to ‘Either’ as it means ‘one or the other’ within a pair but is used as a negative. ‘Neither’ must be used with a singular noun and can also be used with plural nouns or pronouns if followed up with ‘of’.

  • Neither men are hard working.
  • Neither of us could have figured out the answer to the puzzle.

Neither’ can function like a conjunction when paired with ‘nor’ to talk about each member of a pair. In this type of sentence, ‘neither’ doesn’t function as a distributive.

  • He will eat neither pizza nor hamburger for lunch.
  • We will neither play nor watch soccer.

Difference Words: When to use ‘Other’ or ‘Another’

The determiners of difference, ‘Other’ or ‘Another’ refer to something different, remaining, or additional. They normally precede nouns or adjectives that describe the nouns. However, ‘the other’ works differently from the two.

Using ‘Other’ with plural countable nouns and all uncountable nouns

Other’ can be used alone or when combined with other determiners like some, any, or no.

  • Do you need help from other people?
  • You could complete your task any other way.
  • He must know some other doctors who can help.
  • There is no other strategy better than mine!

In the case where the plural countable noun is understood from context, it may be omitted and ‘other’ can take its place as a plural.

  • Some others have worked very hard to do well in their exam.
  • There are no others willing to take the challenge.

Using ‘Another’ with singular countable nouns

Another’ is used with singular countable nouns but can also be used with uncountable nouns if used with a word that can measure the uncountable noun.

  • I have another present for you.
  • You can add another bag of sugar to the shopping cart.

Using ‘The other’ with any noun that meets the criteria of the definite article

‘The other’ can be used to modify plural countable nouns. The noun can be completely omitted if understood from context, which ‘the others’ will become a plural itself.

  • I can’t find the other pencil that’s missing!
  • My friend won one game out of 10. I won the others.

How to use Pre-determiners

Pre-determiners express an opinion about the noun that is they modify. Words like ‘Such’ or ‘What’ are placed before an indefinite article + adjective + noun to express emotions.

  • Such a horrible night we had!
  • What a wonderful thing to say!

Rather’ and ‘Quite’ can display pleasure, disappointment or other types of emotions depending on how it is used.

  • That was rather a nice meal.
  • He was quite a tall man.
  • That was rather a weak display of showmanship.

Quantifiers

Quantifiers are adjectives and adjective phrases that give indirect or direct answers to questions that ask for quantity. They are also determiners that function to make the noun clearer.

Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers

Cardinal numbers refer to quantity and ordinal numbers refer to rank and distribution

Number Cardinal Ordinal
1 one first
2 two second
3 three third
4 four fourth
5 five fifth
6 six sixth
7 seven seventh
8 eight eighth
9 nine ninth
10 ten tenth
11 eleven eleventh
12 twelve twelfth
13 thirteen thirteenth
14 fourteen fourteenth
15 fifteen fifteenth
16 sixteen sixteenth
17 seventeen seventeenth
18 eighteen eighteenth
19 nineteen nineteenth
20 twenty twentieth

How to read decimals

When expressing decimals vocally, you would say ‘point’ for the decimal point. For example, you would say ‘zero point five’ when reading ‘0.5’. You would say ‘fifteen point three nine five eight’ when reading ’15.3958’.

How to read fractions

Read aloud using cardinal numbers for numerators and ordinal numbers for denominators. However, if the denominator is 2, you’ll have to read it out as ‘half’ if its lower than 2, and ‘halves’ if it is than 2.

You may also choose to use ‘quarter’ if the denominator is 4. For example, ‘one fifth’ would be used to describe ‘1/5’ and ‘one half’ would be used to describe ‘1/2’.

However, ‘four halves’ would be used to describe ‘4/2’. You may also say ‘one quarter’ to describe ‘1/4’.

How to read percentages

You may read the number in its cardinal form along with the word ‘percent’. For example ‘thirty-five percent’ as ‘35%’

How to read money

Reading money aloud is simple as reading the whole number along with the currency. Follow the decimal rule if it includes a decimal. For example, ‘five dollars’ would be used to describe ‘$5’.

How to read measurements

Read out the whole number along with the unit of measurement. For example, ‘twenty-five milliliters’ for ‘25mL’. You may apply the decimal rules before pronouncing the unit of measurement.

How to read years

Reading years could be a bit complicated as there are numerous ways to do it. However, the more common way to pronounce years in four digits would be to read the first two digits as whole numbers and the last two digits as separate whole numbers.

For example, ‘twenty nineteen’ would refer to ‘2019’. However, you may also just read it as a whole number, ‘two thousand nineteen’.

If you have a three-digit number, you may either read it as a complete whole number or read the first digit as a whole number separate from the last two digits that can also be read as a whole number.

For example, ‘nine fifty-seven’ for ‘957’ or just ‘nine hundred fifty-seven’.

How to pick the proper quantifier

While some quantifiers can be used with countable nouns, others can be used with uncountable nouns. These are normally used to answer questions that ask about quantity or volume.

Only with uncountable nouns With all types of nouns Only with countable nouns
a little no, none, not any a few
a bit of some a number of
  any several
a great deal of a lot of, lots of a great number of
a large/huge/enormous amount of plenty of a large/huge/enormous number of

How to use ‘much’ and ‘many’

‘Much’ and ‘many’ are mostly used in interrogative questions. ‘Much’ is used for uncountable nouns whereas ‘many’ would be used with countable nouns. For affirmative sentences, they are used with ‘too’ and ‘so’. ‘Many’ can be used alone in affirmative sentences whereas ‘much’ cannot.

Note: ‘A lot’ or ‘lots’ can replace both ‘much’ and ‘many’ in affirmative sentences.

  • How much water can you drink?
  • How many people can sing as good as you?
  • I ate too much chicken last night.
  • Not a lot of people showed up last night.

How to express opinions about quantity in a positive way (humble) or negative way (ungrateful)

‘a few’ and ‘a little’ can be used to describe a quantity that seems either sufficient or positive. ‘Few’ and ‘little’ can describe the quantity to be lacking or negative.

  • I have a few change in my pocket. (Can imply that the speaker can spare some)
  • I have few change in my pocket. (Can imply that the speaker doesn’t want to spare anything)

Using ‘Some’ or ‘Any’ to describe Indefinite and incomplete quantities

‘Some’ can be used for a variety of different sentences. Such as descriptive sentences, interrogative sentences where may already know the answer, or interrogative sentences where you ask for something or offer something.

  • I ate some fruit
  • Did you eat some fruit?
  • Could you give me some fruit?
  • Would you like some fruit?

You may use ‘Any’ in interrogative sentences when you do not know the answer or with not to make a negative sentence that emphasizes the negativity. It could also be used as a rhetorical question to prove a point.

  • Do you have any female friends you can introduce me to?
  • No, I don’t have any female friends to introduce you to.
  • Do you have any idea how hard it is to meet a girl?

Using graded quantifiers to compare amounts

Graded quantifiers allow comparison between different quantities. Countable and uncountable nouns require different quantifiers. In some cases, the noun could be absent if it is understood from context.

Quantifier Comparative grade Superlative grade
With plural countable nouns
many more most
few fewer fewest
With uncountable nouns
much more most
little less least

Using ‘Enough’ as a quantifier

You may use ‘Enough’ as a quantifier to indicate that the quantity is sufficient or necessary. It can also be used as an adverb, which doesn’t require it to be paired with a noun.

  • There are enough people here to build a train.
  • I don’t have enough money to buy that toy.

Pronouns and Possessive Determiners

To get a better understanding of how to use Pronouns and Possessive Determiners, you’ll want to look at the page on what is a pronoun. There are several explanations and examples on how to use them properly.

Bottom Line

Now that you’ve learned all about what are determiners, you may want to learn about the 8 parts of speech. Familiarize yourself with nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, interjections and prepositions.

It’s always a good idea to review your English grammar by checking out ESL Workshop.

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