What Is a Determiner? | Definition, Types & Examples
A determiner is a word that modifies, describes, or introduces a noun. Determiners can be used to clarify what a noun refers to (e.g., your car) and to indicate quantity or number (e.g., four wheels).
How are determiners used in sentences?
A determiner modifies or describes a noun by clarifying what it refers to. Determiners do this by indicating qualities such as possession, relative position, and quantity. In a noun phrase, determiners come before nouns.
Determiners vs. adjectives
Many kinds of determiners are traditionally classified as adjectives, and they may still be classified that way now, depending on the source you consult. But there are significant differences in how determiners and adjectives actually function.
While both can be used to modify a noun, only an adjective can modify a pronoun (e.g., he’s sad). And unlike adjectives, determiners are often considered essential to the sentences they’re a part of and can’t be removed.
Definite and indefinite articles
Articles are sometimes classed as their own part of speech, but they are also considered a type of determiner.
The definite article the is used to refer to a specific noun (i.e., one that is unique or known).
The indefinite articles a and an are used to refer to a general or unspecific version of a noun. Which indefinite article you use depends on the pronunciation of the word that follows.
- A is used before words that begin with a consonant sound (e.g., a clown).
- An is used before words that begin with a vowel sound (e.g., an arrow).
Indefinite articles can also be used to refer to something for the first time. Once a noun has been introduced, the definite article should then be used, as it refers to a previously mentioned noun.
Demonstrative determiners (also called demonstrative adjectives or simply demonstratives) are used to indicate relative positions of a noun. The demonstrative determiners are:
- “This” (the singular “near” demonstrative)
- “These” (the plural “near” demonstrative)
- “That” (the singular “far” demonstrative)
- “Those” (the plural “far” demonstrative)
They can also be used to distinguish between more recent time (this and these) and more distant time (that and those).
A possessive determiner (also called a possessive adjective) is used to describe ownership or possession. The possessive determiners are my, your, his, her, its, our and their.
They are closely related to personal pronouns but not classed as pronouns themselves. They differ grammatically from possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs), which stand alone rather than modifying nouns (e.g., “Yours is better”).
Both cardinal numbers (one, two, three, etc.) and ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.) can be used as determiners.
Cardinal numbers are used to indicate the quantity of people or things. They typically follow other determiners in a sentence (e.g., my one chance).
Ordinal numbers are used to specify the order of nouns in a series. They follow other determiners in a sentence (e.g., your sixth birthday).
Distributive determiners (also called distributive adjectives) are used to refer to a group or to individual people or objects within a group. The distributive determiners are all, each, every, both, half, either, and neither.
An interrogative determiner (also called an interrogative adjective) modifies a noun or pronoun in a direct or indirect question. The interrogative determiners are what, which, and whose.
These words can also function as pronouns instead of determiners when used in place of a noun (e.g., “Which do you like?”). And when they are used as determiners outside the context of a question, they are called “relative determiners.”
Quantifiers (also called indefinite adjectives) indicate the quantity of a noun. They include all, any, few, less, little, many, much, no, several, and some. They also include the cardinal numbers (one, two, three, etc.).
Determiners of difference
Other and another are the determiners of difference.
Other is used to mean “additional” or “different types of.” It’s used with plural countable nouns (e.g., doors) and all uncountable nouns (e.g., knowledge).
Another is used to mean “one more” or “a different one.” It’s only used with singular countable nouns (e.g., fork).
Frequently asked questions
- What are the different types of determiners?
- Are numbers adjectives?
Cardinal numbers (e.g., one, two, three) can be placed before a noun to indicate quantity (e.g., one apple). While these are sometimes referred to as “numeral adjectives,” they are more accurately categorized as determiners or quantifiers.
- What is an indefinite article?
The indefinite articles a and an are used to refer to a general or unspecified version of a noun (e.g., a house). Which indefinite article you use depends on the pronunciation of the word that follows it.
- A is used for words that begin with a consonant sound (e.g., a bear).
- An is used for words that begin with a vowel sound (e.g., an eagle).