Students understanding the complexity of language

Chapter 01-08: Determiners


chapter 1: determiners

Determiners are structure-class words that precede and modify nouns  both grammatically and lexically. Sometimes, nouns need determiners and  sometimes they don’t:
  • You let the cat out of the bag! (The definite article the is a determiner.)
  • Your cats are driving me crazy! (The possessive your functions as a determiner.)
  • Cats will always eat some tuna. (The indefinite some functions as a determiner for tuna, but cats does not require a determiner in this context.)
There are seven primary sets of determiners; in other words, several different kinds of structure-class words can  function as determiners. Since DETERMINER is the category term, you must identify determiners precisely as part of your analysis. Remember, however, that when you identify a determiner, you MUST identify it precisely by its form. Just identifying it as a “determiner” is not enough.
Determiner Forms
The prototypical set of determiners are the  articles: a/an and the. Any word that can stand in for a/an or the can be classified as a determiner.
English has two subclasses of article. You can identify the article precisely by understanding that its use depends on what knowledge is shared  by the speaker/writer and hearer/reader.
Definite Article: the
The speaker or writer uses the when the hearer or reader knows specifically what is being talked about.      
  • Example: The dog dug up the bushes. A particular dog that both speaker and hearer know did the digging.
 Indefinite Article: a/an
The speaker or writer uses a/an when it cannot be assumed that the hearer or readers has specific knowledge of what is being talked about.
  • Example: A dog dug up the bushes. Some dog that the speaker and hearer do not know did the digging.
 Demonstrative Determiner: English has four demonstrative determiners: this, that, these, and those. Just as with the definite article the, demonstratives are used when the speaker/writer and hearer/reader share specific knowledge of what is being talked about.
  • Please wash this car.
  • Please wash that car.
  • Please wash these cars.
  • Please wash those cars.
 All these sentences refer to one or several specific cars.
Possessive Determiner: the possessive determiner can serve the function of either determiner or pronoun, so be sure to identify the word in context. When acting as a determiner, possessives precede a noun: 
  • my house (1st-person singular)
  • our coursework (1st-person plural)
  • your yard (2nd-person singular and plural)
  • his/her/its hair (3rd-person singular)
  • their business (3rd-person plural)
Possessive nouns (those nouns with the possessive inflection) are  also considered a possessive determiner when it precedes another noun:
  • the scholarship’s due date
  • the travel mug’s handle
 This is important to remember when analyzing for determiners.
Indefinite Determiner: Like definite articles, indefinite determiners are used to refer to nonspecific nouns. They include words such as some, any, no, every, other, another, many, more, both, several, and each. The following sentences do not refer to any specific car or cars:
  • Please wash some cars.
  • Please wash other cars.
  • Please wash each car.
  • Please wash many cars.
Cardinal Determiner: cardinal numbers can act as determiners when they precede a noun:
  • one hedgehog
  • two wheelbarrows
  • two hundred applications
 Ordinal Determiner: ordinal numbers can combine with articles to act as determiners:
  • the first day
  • a second chance
  • the last man standing
Again, always remember to identify a determiner by its form.