English Determiners


English determiners are words that are used to identify nouns. Determiners come before a noun to show which person or thing the noun refers to. 

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English determiners tell us about the noun that comes after them. They tell things such as how much, how many, whose and which one.

Jump to:
Types of Determiners
General Rules for Using English Determiners

Determiners tell whether you are referring to something specific:

Can I borrow your dress?

John is walking the dog.

Is that Bill's blue car?

man in car

Or you are referring to something more general:

Do you have any dresses I can borrow?

John is walking a dog.

Do you have some paper?

man with paper

A determiner is always followed by a noun. A determiner signals (determines) that a noun will follow.

Why are you wearing my shirt?

She is buying those chairs.

Can you hand me that pencil?

woman with pencil


Numbers can also act as determiners.

I will buy twenty-three tickets.

My mom bought ten books.

Tommy has one dog.

man with dog

Types of determiners

There are many different types of determiners. Here is a list of the most common types of determiners. Click the links to find out more about each type.

A) Definite and indefinite articles

Description: The definite article is used to refer to something specific. The indefinite articles are used to refer to something general.
  • the (used with singular and plural nouns)
    Please hand me the remote.
    I can carry the boxes.

  • a (used with singular nouns)
    Sally has a new car.

  • an (used with singular nouns)
    I ate an apple.

B) Demonstratives (demonstrative pronouns)

Description:
Demonstratives are use to point to something specific instead of something general. Demonstratives also tell us where the noun is in relation to the speaker. It is either close or far away.
  • that (used with singular nouns)
    I want that horse. (farther away)

  • this  (used with singular nouns)
    My sister wants this horse. (close)

  • these  (used with plural nouns)
    Do you want to look at these horses? (close)

  • those  (used with plural nouns)
    No. I like those horses. (farther away)

C) Difference words

Description:
Difference words are used when you want to refer to something different, additional, or remaining.
  • other (used with singular or plural nouns)
    Do you have any other children?
    Sam will eat the other piece of cake.

  • another (used with singular nouns)
    I would like another balloon.

D) Distributives

Description:
Distributives are used to refer to how people or things are divided or shared within a group.
  • each
    The teacher hands a paper to each child.

  • every
    The teacher grades every paper after school.

  • either
    Do you want the blue shirt or the red shirt?
    I will be happy with either shirt.

  • neither
    Nick eats neither pizza nor spaghetti.

E) Numbers (cardinal and ordinal)

Description:
Numbers are used to tell an exact amount (one, two, three) or a certain order (first, second, third.)
  • one
  • twenty
  • thirteen
  • fifty-two
  • first
  • last
  • third
    .
    Examples:
  • There were twenty children at the party.
  • She was the first person to finish.

F) Possessives

Description: Possessives are used to show who or what the noun belongs to.
  • my
  • your
  • his
  • her
  • its
  • our
  • their

    Examples:
  • Have you seen my mother?
  • I am her friend.
  • We are going to their house for supper.
G) Possessive proper nouns
  • Bill's
  • America's
  • Mr. Smith's
  • Lisa's

    Examples:
  • We flew over Bill's farm.
  • Have you been in Mr. Smith's classroom?
  • Lisa's car is parked by mine.

H) Quantifiers

Description:
Quantifiers tell us the number of each noun. They tell us "how much" or "how many."

These are just a few of the quantifiers that can be used as determiners.
  • a little
  • a few
  • a lot of
  • all
  • any
  • both
  • enough
  • many
  • most
  • much
  • some

    Examples:
  • Please hand me a few tissues.
  • Both children played in the sandbox.
  • Tim is fond of most animals.
  • He needs some crayons.

I) Question or defining words

Description: Question words
ask which thing or person is being referred to by the speaker. Defining words explain which thing or person is being referred to.
  • which
    Which house is yours? (question)
    I will show you which house is mine. (defining)

  • what
    What book did you read? (question)

  • whose
    Whose
    dog is that? (question)
    That is the man whose dog was in your yard. (defining)

Pre-determiners

Description:
Pre-determiners are placed before determiners in a sentence. They come before articles or determiners and give even more information about the noun that comes after the determiner.

Here are just a few common pre-determiners that you can use:
  • such
  • rather
  • twice
  • half
  • not really
  • indeed
  • all
  • both
  • quite

Examples:

pre-determiner    determiner    
  • We saved half the cake for her.
  • I bought all my supplies at the store.
  • I babysat for both her children.
  • The wedding was such an elaborate celebration!
  • The children made quite a fuss over the new teacher.

teacher with apples


General rules for using English determiners

1. We don't usually use determiners with singular proper nouns

Determiners are not usually used before singular proper nouns, such as names of countries and people.

Examples:
  • Incorrect: This summer I will visit the America.
  • Correct: This summer I will visit America.

  • Incorrect: The Mrs. Smith is my teacher.
  • Correct: Mrs. Smith is my teacher.
Exceptions:
These words can use a determiner.
  • The Pacific Ocean (Atlantic Ocean, etc.)
  • The United States of America

2. You must always use a determiner with a singular countable noun


Singular countable nouns need a determiner.

Examples:
  • Incorrect: Have you seen dog?
  • Correct: Have you seen my dog?

  • Incorrect: You can borrow pencil from teacher.
  • Correct: You can borrow a pencil from the teacher.

  • Incorrect: There was envelope in mailbox.
  • Correct: There was one envelope in Bob's mailbox.

3. You do not always use determiners with plural countable nouns


Plural countable nouns do not always use a determiner.

You can use these types of determiners before plural countable nouns:
  • The article "the"
  • possessive pronouns
  • possessive proper nouns
  • numbers
  • quantifiers
  • question words
  • demonstratives (these and those)

Examples with no determiner:
  • Apples are my favorite fruit.

  • Flowers are growing in our garden.

  • I like dogs and cats.

  • The playground is full of kids.

Examples with determiners:
  • Their books are on the table.

  • I shut Nick's dogs in the garage.

  • Tom has twelve children in his class.

  • These books need to be put on a shelf.

  • Which shoes did he buy?
man with shoes

4. Determiners are sometimes optional with uncountable nouns


Determiners are not always required before uncountable nouns

Examples:
  • I put pepper in the soup.

  • I put some pepper in the soup.

  • Is the water cold?

  • Water is good for your body.

  • Your happiness is important to me.

  • Babies bring happiness!

5. Use the indefinite articles "a" and "an" as determiners when referring to non-specific singular nouns


A) Use "a" before a noun beginning with a consonant sound

Examples:
  • I need a pencil.

  • Did you see a giraffe at the zoo?

  • She bought a car.

B) Use "an" before a noun beginning with a vowel sound

Examples:
  • Did you see an elephant at the zoo?

  • Please hand me an eraser.

  • Tommy has an apple in his lunchbox.

6. Use the definite article "the" as a determiner when referring to a specific noun


Examples:
  • Did you see the cats in the window?

  • I wrecked the car.

  • She is applying for the job.

7. Sometimes one or more adjectives are placed between the determiner and the noun to make the noun even more specific

Examples:

determiner    adjective(s)    noun
  • Can I borrow your red dress?

  • Mr. Jones is my favorite teacher.

  • She owns a big, mean dog.
dog

These were the rules of English Determiners. Now that you know them, it is time to practice! Get our ESL Books.

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