Determiners

Determiners form a class of words that occur in the left-most position inside noun phrases. They thus precede nouns, as well as any adjectives that may be present.

The most common determiners are the and a/an.

Here are some more determiners:

  • any taxi
  • that question
  • those apples
  • this paper
  • some apple
  • whatever taxi
  • whichever taxi

As these examples show, determiners can have various kinds of 'specifying' functions. For example, they can help us to identify which person or thing the noun refers to. So, if in a conversation with you I talk about that man you will know who I am talking about. In the following examples the determiners specify a quantity:

  • all examples
  • both parents
  • many people
  • each person
  • every night
  • several computers
  • few excuses
  • enough water
  • no escape

Be aware that the following items belong to the class of pronouns when they occur on their own (e.g. I like this very much), but when they occur before nouns (e.g. this book) they belong to both the determiner and pronoun classes:

  • this/that
  • these/those

Possessive my, your, his/her, our, and their occur before nouns, and are classed as determiners. When they occur on their own as mine, yours, his/hers, ours and theirs (e.g. That phone is mine) we take them to be pronouns.

Determiners can sometimes be modified themselves, usually by a preceding modifier, examples being [almost every] night and [very many] people.

Here are some more words acting as determiners. These examples are drawn directly from the ICE-GB corpus. Refreshing your screen will produce a new list of examples. Which noun does each determiner point at, and what does each determiner tell us about the noun?

  • Indeed the few lines before the above quote suggest why. [W1A-018 #12]
  • Two cases may be described to illustrate the application of the basic rule about guilt. [W2B-020 #15]
  • Contrast what we ’ve just heard with Brixton nineteen eighty-one when many honourable law-abiding people felt that the less they saw of the police the happier they would be  [S2B-037 #34]
  • Sort of left it there in the air you know [S1A-071 #133]
  • The first London was just a colonial outpost of the Roman empire  [S2B-022 #12]
  • And I And I think it ’s it ’s good for the game  [S2A-004 #87]
  • This results in rapid slope and soil erosion and in gullying, rendering the land useless for agriculture. [W1A-013 #62]
  • South East Asia and the Pacific islands have retained 25 per cent; [W2B-028 #43]
  • Anyway it only said something to the effect  [S1A-057 #73]
  • A key is provided which, when removed, ensures that messages cannot be accidentally over-recorded. [W2B-039 #56]

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