Grammar: Determiner

Posted December 13, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Revised as of 20 September 2017

Determiners identify or quantify nouns or noun phrases, and they do this in one of ways: as identifiers or as quantifiers.

Identifiers are split into articles, demonstratives, interrogatives, numbers, indefinite pronouns, and possessives all of which identify some noun or noun phrase.

Quantifiers is a very small group and refers to indefinite quantities; the post, “Quantifier“, explores this in greater detail.

Amazing what grammarians will come up with, although I can sympathize — you should see me sorting nuts, bolts, screws, and nails!

You may also want to explore Articles, Numerals, Possessives, or Quantifiers in more detail.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by by tweeting it.

Credit to: Woodward English; Style Sheet for the 1632 Series
Definition: A closed class word that introduces a noun and provides some information about it but does not describe the noun.

Determiners may also be divided into specific and general determiners, which are another way of saying essential or nonessential, restrictive or nonrestrictive.


  1. Identifiers
  2. Quantifiers
  3. “Specific” Determiners

A.k.a., determinative, limiting adjective

Identifiers Definition: Labels the identity of a particular or a unique object or a unique class of objects. This could be an idea, a physical object or the physical substance. It could be a name, number, word, letter, symbol, or a combination of these.

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There are restrictive and nonrestrictive identifiers, sometimes referred to as essential and nonessential.

Types of Identifiers:

  1. Definite article
  2. Indefinite article
  3. Demonstrative Pronouns
  4. Possessives
Definite Article Definition: An essential, restrictive article that determines a specific or particular noun. It identifies a particular item.

Rule: No commas.

A.k.a., restrictive identifier, essential identifier

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List of Essential Definite Articles
the that

  1. Green indicates the restrictive identifier

Look at the ball.

Find the car keys.

She ran down that alley.

This is the letter mother sent to me.

That man came into the room.

The football team was led by the quarterback Joe Namath.

The artist Pablo Picasso both destroyed and created the avant-garde.

Indefinite Article Definition: A nonessential, nonrestrictive article that modifies non-specific or non-particular nouns. It simply identifies one of any number of similar items.

A.k.a., nonrestrictive identifier, nonessential identifier, general determiner

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List of Nonessential Indefinite Articles
a an some
A Rule: Use a before words that begin with a consonant sound.
That was a great catch.

It was a detail that was overlooked.

She saw it as a ladder to the stars.

This is a letter mother sent to me.

A man came into a room.


  1. Green indicates the nonrestrictive identifier
An Rule: Use an before words that begin with a vowel sound.

Most acronyms and words beginning with an “h”, and pronounced with an “aitch” sound, will use “an” in front of it.

Explore the difference between a and an in the post, “Grammar Explanation & Word Confusion: A and An.

He would need an angioplasty.

Do you hear an echo?

I had to hand it to her, it was an Oscar-award moment.


  1. Green indicates the nonrestrictive identifier
Some Rule: Use for the plural nouns.

It can be followed by any adverb, adjective, plural noun or uncountable noun whatsoever (as long as there’s a noun somewhere in the vicinity to complete the noun phrase).


  1. Green indicates the plural nonrestrictive identifier

I would like some flowers, please.

Now those are some blue shoes!

You should see some buildings up ahead.

Can we buy some camels?

Oh, man, those are some ugly clothes.

Can you pick up some brushes while you’re out?

We some soda for tonight.

…and pick up some water while you’re out.

I have some some dollar bills

Nonessential with Comma
Rule: When the identifier makes sense in the sentence by itself, then the name is nonessential, and it should be set off from the sentence with commas or a comma and a period if it is the end of the sentence.
A Chicago janitor, Aye Gi, bought the winning lottery ticket.

George Jones, a city politician, prepared the speech.

Anna Johnson, a sophomore, is president of the newspaper club.

Local 99’s winner of the prize, Harry Kline, will be eligible for the grand prize next year.

Demonstratives Definition: Used to show:

  • The relative distance between the speaker and the noun
  • Show if an action is in past or present time

Four Demonstrative Identifiers:

  1. That / Those [ as adjective, as pronoun]
  2. This / These [as adjective], as pronoun

A.k.a., specific determiner

Demonstrative Adjective Definition: Show whether the noun they refer to is singular or plural and whether it is located near to or far from the speaker or writer (Using English).
those (pl.)
Rule: Use if an action has finished or is in the past. It must agree with the noun.

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That car is so cool.

Those boys with their pants hanging off their butts are so silly looking.

Those girls we met last night were silly.

these (pl.)
Rule: Used in front of a noun and indicates present time and action. It must agree with the noun.

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This book is so dull.

These chocolates are delicious!

Demonstrative Pronoun Definition: Used to identify how close something is, i.e., how near or far:

  • If an action is near in time we tend to use this or these
  • If an action has finished or is in the past we use that or those

Rule: Used before a verb or by themselves.

A.k.a., adjectival demonstrative pronouns

those (pl.)
Rule: Use that (those is the plural) to identify an item(s) that is not close by the speaker.

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Get that ball over there.

Get those balls over there.

Has that man gotten home yet?

Have those men gotten home yet?

That’s the one over there.

Those are the ones over there.

Did you do that?
these (pl.)
Rule: Use this (these is the plural) to identify an item(s) that is close by the speaker or the action is near in time.

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Do you want me to throw this ball?

Do you want me to throw these balls?

This is the man who kissed me.

These are the men who kissed me.

This is the book I bought last week.

These are the books I bought last week.

Oh, man, I want to eat this.

I’d like to buy these.

I’d like to buy these shoes makes it a demonstrative adjective.

This is a good meal.

Rule: Use this expression when you talk on the phone or introduce people.
“Hello, this is Jamie.”

John, this is my friend Peter. Peter, this is John.

Interrogative Determiner Definition: Expresses direct or indirect questions and exclamations.

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List of Some Interrogative Determiners
what which whose
For what reason?

What time is it?

Do you know what excuse he gave me?

Which way is the wind blowing?

Whose car are you borrowing for tomorrow?

What luck!

Numbers Definition: Labels an object or class of objects as unique whether it’s an idea, a countable or noncountable noun.

Rule: A number identifier may be combined with letters, words, or symbols.

A.k.a., numerical determiner

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five, eight, 103…
part number 5839-4
SN: BR-578-4JE78S32491
SSN: 555-55-5555
Telephone No.: 555-555-1212
Chapter 12
“100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”

We have three children.

They are on the second floor.

Indefinite Pronouns Rule: Indefinite pronouns function as nouns.

There is a more extensive list of indefinite pronouns in the post, “Pronoun“.

A.k.a., distributive determiner, universal determiner

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List of Some Indefinite Pronouns
all Talks about the whole group
another Talks about an additional one of the same
any Talks about anything or anyone
Talks about pairs of people or things
Talks about the members of a group as individuals
half Talks about a divided group
most Talks about a majority of a group
other Expresses vagueness or an alternative
some Talks about an unspecified number or amount
All of her work made its impact on her grades.

Some of the water left its mark on the wooden table.

Both of the books were useful in their own ways.

Most of my friends drove their cars to the beach.

Each person threw in their hat.

All dogs love bones.

Each student will write two essays.

Every child will get an ice cream cone.

Possessives Definition: Identifiers that indicate ownership.

A.k.a., possessive adjectives (Biber, 1999:270-272), specific determiner

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List of Some Possessive Determiners
Whose coat is that?
Possessive Nouns Definition: Shows that the noun owns something.
It may also be a noun phrase.

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The studio’s lighting is excellent.

What happened to the pail’s handle?

The water bucket’s hole is making it very difficult to haul water.

Possessive Pronouns Definition: Modifies a noun by attributing possession (or other sense of belonging) to someone or something.

A.k.a., possessive adjective, adjectival possessive pronoun

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List of Possessive Pronouns
Mary’s, my, your, her, his, its, ours, their, theirs, whose
Where is James’ car?

Have you found your keys yet?

That’s my chocolate!

Whose coat is this?

Relative Determiner Definition: Used in non-restrictive clauses.

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List of Relative Determiners
He left at ten, at which point everyone sighed in relief.

Henry painted a picture of the house, which painting I later destroyed.

Yesterday, I met three men with long beards, which men I remember vividly

Every day, he visits me at the arcade, from which fact I derive much pleasure.

He went to the park and the shopping center, both of which places John hates.

Quantifiers Definition: Makes references to indefinite quantities.

A.k.a., positive paucal determiner

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List of Quantifiers
a few a little certain many
few several some various
I have several jars of chili sauce.

My file has too many complaints in it.

A little chocolate always helps.

Can I have some more, please?

Several people arrived at the door.

My sister has written a few books on child psychology (English Grammar).

I have read few books on Indian mythology.

Sufficiency Determiner Definition: Makes specific reference to indicate an adequate amount.

Credit to: Grammarianism

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List of Sufficiency Determiners
enough sufficient
I have enough bread to eat.

There is sufficient fuel in the tank.

Getting More Specific About Determiners
The above determiners are the most basic types. Naturally, grammarians can’t resist the urge to pick things apart, so I’m including the following for their definitions and word lists — all of which fit more generally above as well.
Additive Determiner Definition: Signals that the noun is an alternative to whatever was suggested before or indicates an additional one of the same kind.

A.k.a., alternative-additive determiner

Credit to: Calvin College and Grammarianism

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List of Additive Determiners
Do you have another suggestion?

Would you like another piece of pie?

We took another road to the city.

Give me another piece of gum.

Degree Determiner Definition: Refers to an amount, level, or extent.

Credit to: Grammarianism

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List of Degree Determiners
few little many much
Few people know about his plans.

Many are called, but few are chosen.

Disjunctive Determiner Definition: Expresses a choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities.

Credit to: Grammarianism

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List of Disjunctive Determiners
either neither
Either solution will do.

Neither of you are taking part in the expedition.

Neither day will do.

I’ve got tea and coffee, so you can have either.

The room has a door at either end.

Existential Determiner Definition: A type of indefinite determiner that relates to indefinite being(s) or thing(s).

Credit to: Grammarianism

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List of Existential Determiners
any some
Some people have all the fun.
Negative Determiner Definition: Used to limit the meaning of a noun.

Credit to: Grammarianism

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List of Negative Determiners
No amount of tea will satisfy her.
Personal Determiner Definition: Specific personal pronouns used as part of a phrase.

Credit to: Grammarianism

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List of Personal Determiners
us we you
You people are always against our ideas.

We anarchists have to stick together.

Everybody loves us kids.

Be aware that many determiners can also be pronouns.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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ISBN Details is by Sakurambo at English Wikipedia under the GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0, or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 licenses, via Wikimedia Commons.