ENG: Determiners AssignmentDeterminers are words placed in front of a noun to make it clear what the noun refers to. Use the pages in this section to help you use English determiners correctly.
A determiner is a word that introduces a noun. It always comes before a noun, not after, and it also comes before any other adjectives used to describe the noun.
Determiners are required before a singular noun but are optional when it comes to introducing plural nouns. For example, consider the placement and usage of the common determiner the in the sentences below:
- The bunny went home.
- I ate the chocolate cookie for dessert.
- Metal cans are recyclable.
- The metal cans are recyclable.
In every example, the determiner is placed before the noun or noun phrase, regardless of whether the noun in the subject or predicate. In the first example, it comes directly before the noun, but in the second example, it comes before the adjective (“chocolate”) that describes the noun (“cookie”).
Note also that in the third example there is no determiner, as determiners are optional for plural nouns and noun phrases. When you want to discuss the noun in general (i.e., all metal cans), you don’t need a determiner for plural nouns. However, the fourth example shows that you may add a determiner to refer to specific nouns (i.e., the metal cans right here).
There are four different types of determiners in English: articles, demonstratives, quantifiers, and possessives.
Articles are among the most common of the determiners. There are three singular articles: a, an, and the. Articles specify (or determine) which noun the speaker is referring to. A and an are indefinite articles and are used when you are talking about a general version of the noun. For example:
- A dog is a good pet.
- An ostrich would beat a chicken in a race.
In these examples, the sentence is talking about dogs or ostriches in general, meaning any dog. When your meaning is general, use an indefinite article. Note that a is used before words that begin with consonants while an is used before words beginning with vowels.
In English, the two indefinite articles are a and an. Like other articles, indefinite articles are invariable. You use one or the other, depending on the first letter of the word following the article, for pronunciation reasons. Use a when the next word starts with a consonant, or before words starting in u and eu when they sound like you. Use an when the next word starts with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u) or with a mute h.
- a boy
- an apple
- a car
- a helicopter
- an elephant
- a big elephant
- an itchy sweater
- an ugly duck
- a european
- a university
- a unit
- an hour
- an honor
The indefinite article is used to refer to something for the first time or to refer to a particular member of a group or class. Some use cases and examples are given below.
Use a to refer to something for the first time.
- Would you like a drink?
- I’ve finally got a good job.
- An elephant and a mouse fell in love.
NAMING MEMBERS OF A GROUP
Use a with names of jobs.
- John is a doctor.
- Mary is training to be an engineer.
- He wants to be a dancer.
Use a with nationalities and religions in the singular.
- John is an Englishman.
- Kate is a Catholic.
Use a with the names of days of the week when not referring to any particular day.
- I was born on a Thursday.
- Could I come over on a Saturday sometime?
Use a to refer to an example of something.
- The mouse had a tiny nose .
- The elephant had a long trunk .
- It was a very strange car .
Use a with singular nouns after the words ‘what’ and ‘such’.
- What a shame !
- She’s such a beautiful girl .
- What a lovely day !
Use a meaning ‘one’, referring to a single object or person, or a single unit of measure. In these sentences using “one” instead of the indefinite article is grammatically correct. It will add emphasis to the number, and contrast with other numbers.
- I’d like an orange and two lemons please.
- I’d like one orange and two lemons please.
- The burglar took a diamond necklace and some valuable paintings.
- I can think of a hundred reasons not to come.
- I need a kilogram of sugar.
- I need one kilogram of sugar.
- You can’t run a mile in 5 minutes!
On the other hand, the is a definite article, meaning the speaker is referring to a specific noun. For example:
- We went to the best restaurant in town.
- The dog is barking too loudly.
Here the speaker is referring to a particular dog and a particular restaurant. It’s not a general category, but only one animal or place that’s important. When your meaning is specific, use a definite article.
The word “the” is one of the most common words in English. It is our only definite article. Nouns in English are preceded by the definite article when the speaker believes that the listener already knows what he is referring to. The speaker may believe this for many different reasons, some of which are listed below.
WHEN TO USE “THE”
Use the to refer to something which has already been mentioned.
- On Monday, an unarmed man stole $1,000 from the bank. The thief hasn’t been caught yet.
- I was walking past Benny’s Bakery when I decided to go into the bakery to get some bread.
- There’s a position available in my team. The job will involve some international travel.
Use the when you assume there is just one of something in that place, even if it has not been mentioned before.
- We went on a walk in the forest yesterday.
- Where is the bathroom?
- Turn left and go to number 45. Our house is across from the Italian restaurant.
- My father enjoyed the book you gave him.
Use the in sentences or clauses where you define or identify a particular person or object.
- The man who wrote this book is famous.
- I scratched the red car parked outside.
- I live in the small house with a blue door.
- He is the doctor I came to see.
Use the to refer to people or objects that are unique.
- The sun rose at 6:17 this morning.
- You can go anywhere in the world.
- Clouds drifted across the sky.
- The president will be speaking on TV tonight.
- The CEO of Total is coming to our meeting.
Use the before superlatives and ordinal numbers.
- This is the highest building in New York.
- She read the last chapter of her new book first.
- You are the tallest person in our class.
- This is the third time I have called you today.
Use the with adjectives, to refer to a whole group of people.
- The French enjoy cheese.
- The elderly require special attention.
- She has given a lot of money to the poor.
Demonstrative pronouns are also used as determiners in English. There are four of them: this, that, these and those.Demonstratives are used in a situation in which the speaker can point to the item they mean, making them even more specific than a definite article. For example:
- Do you want this piece of chicken?
- I don’t want to go to that movie.
- These black raspberries are sour.
- He wanted those boys to go away.
This and these refer to items nearby; that and those refer to items far away. Note also that this and that are singular while these and those are plural.
|Near the speaker||Far from the speaker|
|Is this John’s house?||Is that John’s house over there?|
|This is a nice surprise!||That must have been a nice surprise for you.|
|These apples are mine.||Those apples are yours.|
|What are you up to these days?||Those days are long gone.|
|This time I won’t be late.||We really surprised you that time.|
|This sugar is for my crepes.||You can use that sugar for your cake.|
Demonstratives can be placed before the noun or the adjective that modifies the noun.
- This blue car needs to be washed next.
- Those people were here first.
- That metal rod should work.
- These oranges are delicious.
Demonstratives can also appear before a number by itself when the noun is understood from the context.
- I’d like to try on that one.
- This one is broken.
- I’ll take these three.
- Those two are not as pretty as these two.
Demonstratives can be used by themselves when the noun they modify is understood from the context.
- I’ll never forget this.
- That has nothing to do with me.
- I didn’t ask for these.
- Those aren’t mine.
POSSESSIVE ADJECTIVES (DETERMINERS)
Possessive adjectives are not pronouns, but rather determiners. It is useful to learn them at the same time as pronouns, however, because they are similar in form to the possessive pronouns. Possessive adjectives function as adjectives, so they appear before the noun they modify. They do not replace a noun as pronouns do.
- Did mother find my shoes?
- Mrs. Baker wants to see your homework.
- Can Jake bring over his baseball cards?
- Samantha will fix her bike tomorrow.
- The cat broke its leg.
- This is our house.
- Where is their school?
Quantifiers are determiners that indicate how much or how little of the noun is being discussed. They include words such as all, few and many. For example:
- He took all the books.
- She liked all desserts equally.
- Few children like lima beans, so the cafeteria stopped serving them.
- Many kittens are taught to hunt by their mothers.
Note that all can be used with other determiners to specify which particular items are meant (i.e. all the books in this pile). In this case, the quantifier always comes before the article or demonstrative. It’s also possible to use all alone to refer to items generally, as in the second example.
When referring to a noun that belongs to someone or something, you can use possessive pronouns to show ownership. Possessive pronouns include my, your, his, her, its, our, and their. For example:
- Where is your car?
- The dog growled and showed its teeth.
- My best friend is a cat.
- Which one is his house?
- Honesty is her best quality.
- The tree shed its leaves.
- It’s our secret recipe.
As always, the determiner comes before the noun and any modifying adjectives. In English, you can use the same possessive whether the noun it references is singular or plural.
Using Determiners Correctly
How should you choose which determiner to use? For native English speakers, determining which determiner to use is second nature, since determiners are so often used in front of nouns.
For people learning English as a second language, it’s helpful to remember a few rules:
- Determiners always come first in the noun phrase.
- Determiners are required with singular nouns.
- To speak about a singular noun generally, use an indefinite article (a or an).
- To speak about a plural noun generally, do not use a determiner.
- To speak about a singular noun specifically, use a definite article, demonstrative pronoun, possessive pronoun or quantifier.
- To speak about a plural noun specifically, use a definite article, demonstrative pronoun, possessive pronoun or quantifier.
Once you learn the dictionary definition of each determiner as you study English vocabulary, it becomes easy to select the determiner that best expresses your meaning, whether you want to show ownership, quantity or relative location.