Definition and Examples of Determiners in English

A determiner is a word or combination of words that, in English grammar, describes, identifies, or quantifies the noun or a noun phrase that comes after it. Another name for it is a prenominal modifier. In general, it appears at the beginning of a noun phrase and provides additional information (or them, in the case of a phrase with more than one determiner before the noun).

Articles (a, an, the), cardinal and ordinal numbers (one, two, three…), demonstratives (this, that, these, those), partitives (some of, piece of, and others), quantifiers (most, all, and others), difference words (other, another), and possessive determiners (my, your, his, her, its, our, their) are examples of determiners.

According to the authors Martha Kolln and Robert Funk, “Determiners signal nouns in a variety of ways, including by defining the noun’s relationship to the speaker or listener (or reader), designating the noun as specific or general, quantifying the noun specifically or by referring to quantity generally.” (Allyn and Bacon, 1998, “Understanding English Grammar,” 5th ed.)

A Slippery Grammatical Label

Because the collection of words includes specific nouns, pronouns, and adjectives, determiners are functional components of structure rather than formal word classes. Sylvia Chalker and Edmund Weiner, explain: “In conventional grammar, limiting adjectives are another name for determiners. However, they do not only have a different meaning from the class of adjectives but also often come before regular adjectives in constructing noun phrases. Additionally, co-occurrence constraints and extremely rigorous word order rules apply to determiners.” “Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar,” 1994.

Count and Noncount Nouns

Specific determiners function with count nouns, whereas others don’t. For instance, the preposition many is used with count nouns, as in “The youngster had many marbles.” As opposed to noncount nouns like work, you wouldn’t need as much of an adverb to connect to count nouns like marbles, as in the sentence, “The college student had much work to accomplish before finals week.” Other qualifiers, such as “The youngster had all the marbles” and “The college student had all the work to accomplish before finals week,” may be used with anyone.

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