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5.

Determiners
Determiner (noun): a word like the, an, this or some that comes at the
beginning of a noun phrase
These pages explain the grammar and usage of determiners, with example
sentences.

What is a Determiner?
Determiners are one of the nine parts of speech. They are words
like the, an, this, some, either, myor whose. All determiners share
some grammatical similarities:

Determiners come at the beginning of a noun phrase, before


adjectives.

Determiners limit or "determine" a noun phrase in some way.

Many determiners are "mutually-exclusive": we cannot have more


than one of them in the same noun phrase.

If we do have more than one determiner, they go in a very specific


order.

Look at these example noun phrases. The first word in each noun phrase is
a determiner:

the dog

those people

some brown rice

either side of the road

seven pink elephants

your oldest child

which car

Some grammarians do not give determiners a word class of their own, but
treat them as adjectives.

5.1. Main Determiners


These are the main determiners. There can be only ONE main determiner in
a noun phrase (for more about this, see order of determiners):

5.1.1 Order of Determiners


There are rules about the order of determiners in a noun phrase.
1. It's possible to have NO determiner: John likes dogs. People breathe air.
Wine is alcohol. This is the so-called "zero determiner", and is mainly
possible with proper nouns (ie names), plural countable nouns and
uncountable nouns.
2. All determiners, when present, come at the BEGINNING of a noun phrase
(before any adjectives):the big black dog / my favourite car
3. If you have a "main determiner", you can have only ONE. The main
determiners are:

articles: a/an, the

demonstratives: this/that, these/those

possessives: my/your/his etc

So if you have an article, you cannot also have a demonstrative. If you


have a possessive, you cannot also have an article. You can have one
article OR one demonstrative OR one possessive. For example, you can say
"this dog" or "my dog", but you cannot say "this my dog". The table below
shows how the main determiners "mutually exclude" each other:

noun phrase

main determiners

articles

demonstratives

possessives

dog

the

soup

this

flower

those

birds

my

sister

their

car

4. Some determiners function as "pre-determiners" they can come


BEFORE a main determiner. You can have ONE pre-determiner: all
the right people / half my weight
5. Other determiners function as "post-determiners" they can come
AFTER a main determiner. You can have ONE OR MORE postdeterminers: the next time / my first two jobs
6. If you do have more than one determiner, the table below is a guide to
the normal order. Remember, this is a guide only. Not every combination is
possible.

you can have up to

one of these +

one of these +

one or more of these

pre-determiners

main determiners

post-determiners

quantifiers

article
s

demonstrative
s

possessives

ordinal
s

a/
an/
the

this/that
these/
those

my/her et
c

first/
second..
.
last/nex
t

one/two...
many/
much
more/
most
few/little
less/least
several
other

last

few

all, both
half, one-third
double, twice, ten
times

all

both

those

my

cardinals, other
quantifiers

dollars

younger

sisters

three times

your

salary

little more

red wine

an-

-other

drink

the

most

money

next

three

weeks

first

three

seats

the

these

my

last

her

next

wife

two

husbands

four more

people

several other

friends

5.1.2 Definite Article and Indefinite


Article
a/an, the
The determiners a/an and the are called "articles". They are the most
common of all determiners. They come at the very beginning of a noun
phrase. We divide them into "indefinite" and "definite" like this:

indefinite
articles

definite
article

a/an

the

use
with

singular countable nouns only

all nouns

use
for

a non-specific person or thing


(singular)

specific people or things


(singular or plural)

We use indefinite to mean non-specific. Indefinite is general. We


use definite to mean specific. Definiteis particular. When we are talking
about something in general, we use a or an. When we are talking about
something in particular, we use the.

See also:

When to Say a or an

How to Pronounce the

Think of the sky at night. In the sky we see MILLIONS of stars and ONE
moon. So normally we would say:

I saw a star last night.

I saw the moon last night.

Look at some more examples:

a/an

the

I was born in a town.

The capital of France is Paris.

John had an omelette for


lunch.

I have found the book that I lost.


Have you cleaned the car?

James Bond ordered a drink.


There are six eggs in the fridge.
We want to buy an umbrella.
Have you got a pen?

Please switch off the TV when you


finish.

Of course, often we can use a/an or the for the same word. It depends on
the situation, not the word. Look at these examples:

We want to buy an umbrella. (Any umbrella, not a particular


umbrella.)

It's raining! Where is the umbrella? (We already have an umbrella.


We are looking for our umbrella, a particular umbrella.)

This little story should help you understand the difference


between a/an and the:
A man and a woman were walking in Oxford Street. The woman
saw a dress that she liked in ashop. She asked the man if he could
buy the dress for her. He said: "Do you think the shop will
accept a cheque? I don't have a credit card."

Articles with Countable and Uncountable Nouns


Notice that we use the indefinite article a/an ONLY with singular
countable nouns: a dog, an egg, a very big man, an extremely delicious
meal
By contrast, we can use the definite article the with ALL nouns: the dog,
the eggs, the big men, the music, the food, the red wine
It is sometimes also possible to have no article at allthe so-called ZERO
article. This can happen with all nouns (but normally not singular countable
nouns): dogs, eggs, hot meals, music, red wine
The following table shows how we usually use articles with countable and
uncountable nouns, but see EnglishClub Tip below for more about this.

countable

singular

a/an

the

ZERO

a dog

the dog

dog

plural

uncountable

a dogs

the dogs

dogs

a music

the music

music

In English, a singular countable noun usually needs an article (or other


determiner) in front of it. We cannot say:

I saw elephant yesterday.

We need to say something like:

I saw an elephant.

I saw a pink elephant.

I saw the elephant.

I saw your elephant.

But see ZERO Article for cases when no article or other determiner is
needed.

ZERO Article
""
Sometimes it is possible to have a noun phrase with NO articlethe socalled "ZERO article".
I need a bowl of rice. indefinite article
I like the rice in this restaurant. definite article
I eat rice every day. ZERO article
The ZERO article usually occurs in the following cases:

ZERO Article with Plural and Uncountable Nouns


General meaning

cars, people

life, water

Abstract nouns

education, happiness, music

ZERO Article with Singular Countable Nouns


Names
People: Mary, Bill, Josef

Places: Jupiter, Russia, Bangkok, Heathrow Airport, Cambridge University,


Waterloo Station
Streets: Oxford Street, Wall Street, Picadilly Circus
Languages: English, Russian
Academic subjects: History, Law, Physics
Days, months: Monday, November
Games and Sports

football, chess

Meals

breakfast, lunch, dinner

Noun + Number

platform 3, room 7, page 44

Routine Places

in bed, at home, to school, to work

Movement or Transport

on foot, by car, by bus, by air

Newspaper Headlines, Notices, User Guides

Plane Crashes On House, Keep Area Clean, Insert battery

Example Sentences
Here are some example sentences showing the ZERO article in context.

Cars can be dangerous.

We seldom see courage like that.

I could see clouds in the sky.

There was milk on the doorstep.

I gave it to Mary.

She arrived in Bangkok yesterday.

Do you speak French?

He is good at tennis.

People will travel to Mars soon.

He is in room 45.

Please turn to page 67.

She's in bed.

Are you at home?

They took her to hospital.

I'm leaving town tomorrow by car.

I go to school by bus.

We usually meet on Monday.

November is quite cold.

The ZERO Article is sometimes also called the ZERO Determiner.

5.1.3 this/that, these/those


The demonstrative determiners this/that, these/those point to
something that is close or distant. The closeness can be in:

space (next to the speaker, 20 metres from the speaker, 1000km


from the speaker)

time (now, yesterday, last week, next year)


near

far

singular

this

that

plural

these

those

Like all determiners, demonstrative determiners come at the beginning of a


noun phrase, so they come in front of any adjective(s).
Look at these example sentences:

I like this food.

I use these pens.

I have to do it this morning.

We don't meet these days.

Look at that big cloud.

Can you see those birds?

Do you remember that man we met last week?

Those days on holiday were enjoyable.

5.1.4.Possessive Determiners
my, your, his, her, its, our, their
We use possessive determiners to show who owns or "possesses"
something. The possessive determiners are:

my, your, his, her, its, our, their

Warning! These are determiners. Don't confuse them with possessive


pronouns.
Like all determiners, possessive determiners come at the beginning of a
noun phrase, so they come in front of any adjective(s).
Look at these example sentences:

possessive determiner with gender (Male,


Female, Neuter)

example sentence

SINGULAR

my

M/F

This is my book.

his

His name is John.

her

Her first name is Mary.

its

The dog licked its wounded paw.

our

M/F

We have sold our house.

their

M/F/N

The students thanked their Thai


teacher.

PLURAL

SINGULAR or PLURAL

your

M/F

I like your hair.


Your two children are lovely.

Be careful with these three possessive determiners:

possessive determiner

contraction (sounds the same)

1. your:
This is your book.

you're (you are):


Hurry up! You're late!

2. its:
The dog licked its paw.

it's (it is/it has):


It's coming. (It is coming...)
It's arrived. (It has arrived...)

3. their:
Which is their house?

they're (they are):


They're waiting. (They are waiting...)
Also note there as an adverb:
I'm not going there.

Be careful! There is NO apostrophe (') in the possessive determiner its. We


use an apostrophe to write the contraction of "it is" or "it has". For
example:
it is raining it's raining it has finished it's finished
I'm taking my dog to the vet. It's broken its leg.

5.2 Pre-Determiners and PostDeterminers


Pre-determiners come before main determiners and post-determiners come
after main determiners. (For how many and where, see order of
determiners.)

5.2.1. Quantifiers
Quantifiers are determiners that describe quantity in a noun phrase.
They answer the question "How many?" or "How much?" on a scale
from no (0%) to all (100%).

We use some quantifiers only with countable nouns. We use some other
quantifiers only with uncountable nouns. And we use some with countable
or uncountable nouns.
The table below shows quantifiers that can indicate quantity from 0% to
100%. Notice which ones can be used with countable, uncountable or both:

countable

100%

uncountable

all

every

most

many

much

some

(a) few
fewest

(a) little
least

any

0%

no

Like all determiners, quantifiers come at the beginning of a noun phrase, so


they come in front of any adjective(s).

Look at these example sentences:

I want all the eggs and I want all the red wine.

Please give me every egg you have.

Who has the most eggs? Who has the most money?

We don't have many eggs. We don't have much money.

I have some eggs. I have some money.

I have a few eggs. I have a little money.

I don't have any eggs. I don't have any money.

We had no eggs. We had no money.

There are other quantifiers such as enough and several that cannot easily
be shown on a scale:

We have enough eggs for the party. No need to buy any.

There are several eggs in the fridge but you'd better buy some
more.

More information on specific quantifiers:

Graded Quantifiers
many/much, more, most
few, fewer, fewest
little, less, least

each, every

either, neither

some, any, no

5.2.3. Numbers
Numbers are one kind of determiner. In terms of meaning, numbers are
similar to quantifier determiners, but most grammarians treat them
separately.
Numbers can be "cardinal" (one, two, three) or "ordinal" (first, second,
third), as shown in this table:

cardinal

ordinal

one

first

1st

two

second

2nd

three

third

3rd

10

ten

tenth

10th

21

twenty-one

twenty-first

21st

99

ninety-nine

ninety-ninth

99th

100

one hundred

one hundredth

100th

1000

one thousand

one thousandth

1000th

etc

see more cardinal and ordinal numbers

Like all determiners, numbers come at the beginning of a noun phrase, so


they come in front of any adjective(s).
Look at these example sentences:

I ordered two cakes.

There were three hundred angry people present.

Jane won first prize and Jo won third prize.

They have just produced their one millionth sports car.

When used together in a noun phrase, ordinals normally come before


cardinals.

The first three prizes went to the same family.

5.2.3. Interrogative Determiners


what, which, whose
The interrogative determiners are: what, which, whose

Whose

iPad did you use?

car keys are these?

What

stupid man told you that?

books did you read?

Which

red pen do you want?

three teachers do you prefer?


Whose means "belonging to which person": They didn't know whose car it
was.
What is for asking for information specifying something: What time did
you arrive? I wonder what reason he gave.
Which is for asking for information specifying one or more people or things
from a definite set: Which table would you prefer? I wonder which teacher
told him that.
Like all determiners, interrogative determiners come at the beginning of a
noun phrase, so they come in front of any adjective(s).
Look at these example sentences:

Whose iPhone was stolen?

He couldn't remember whose car keys they were.

What idiot told you that?

I don't know what non-fiction books he was reading.

I asked them which Italian car was best.

Which nightclubs on the Champs Elyses did you go to?

1. Note that whose functions both as an interrogative and a possessive


determiner, so technicallywhose is an interrogative possessive
determiner. Whose is the only interrogative possessive determiner in
English.
2. Note also that there is NO apostrophe (') in the determiner whose. The
contraction who's(meaning "who is" OR "who has") sounds exactly
like whose and even native speakers frequently confuse the two.
I wonder whose dog that is.
Peter, who's not here, is Thai. (who is)
Marie, who's just left, is French. (who has)
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