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The Forms and Function of Determiners in English

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 11/29/2013

The English language contains six grammatical forms that perform the function of determinative. The determiners in English are articles, possessive determiners, demonstrative determiners, interrogative determiners, numerals, and quantifiers.

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    Determiners

    English The determiner in English is a grammatical form that expresses information about a noun or a verb in the form of a present participle such as definiteness and quantity that cannot be expressed by adjectives. The six types of determiners in English are:

    1. Articles
    2. Possessive determiners
    3. Demonstrative determiners
    4. Interrogative determiners
    5. Numerals
    6. Quantifiers

    All determiners in English perform the grammatical function of determinative.

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    Definite and Indefinite Articles

    The first grammatical form of the determiner in English is the article. Articles indicate definiteness or indefiniteness of a noun. The definite article in English is the. The indefinite articles in English are a and an. Both singular and plural nouns can take the definite article. Only singular nouns can take the indefinite article. The following italicized determiners are examples of articles:

    • The baby drank a bottle of milk.
    • An apron is often worn by bakers.
    • The shih tzu is a popular dog breed.

    Articles are sometimes referred to simply as determiners.

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    Possessive Determiners

    The second grammatical form of the determiner in English is the possessive determiner. Possessive determiners indicate possession of or some other relationship to the noun. The possessive determiners in English are my, your, his, her, its, our, and their and the interrogative possessive determiner whose. The following italicized determiners are examples of possessive determiners:

    • The woman removed her wig.
    • Your trash is my treasure.
    • Whose child smashed into their car?

    Possessive determiners are also erroneously referred to as possessive adjectives and sometimes incorrectly categorized as possessive pronouns.

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    Demonstrative Determiners

    The third grammatical form of the determiner in English is the demonstrative determiner. Demonstrative determiners provide additional information about the proximity of the noun to the speaker. The four demonstrative determiners in English are this, these, that, and those. The proximal demonstrative determiners this and these refer to nouns perceived as close to the speaker. The distal demonstrative determiners that and those refer to nouns perceived as far from the speaker. The following italicized determiners are examples of demonstrative determiners:

    • These books belong to that professor.
    • That green sweater should be returned to this department.
    • Those boys need to clean up this yard.

    Note that demonstrative determiners and demonstrative pronouns are identical in form.

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    Interrogative Determiners

    The fourth grammatical form of the determiner in English is the interrogative determiner. Interrogative determiners are most often used in interrogative sentences to gather more information about the noun in question. The two interrogative determiners in English are what and which. The following italicized determiners are examples of interrogative determiners:

    • What spice does the recipe call for?
    • Which cloth should I use?
    • Which book do you need for what class?

    Note that interrogative determiners and interrogative pronouns are also identical in form.

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    Numerals

    The fifth grammatical form of the determiner in English is the numeral. Numerals are the cardinal numbers used for counting such as one, two, thirty, forty-five, and one hundred in English. Numerals also include specialized number designations such as dozen for twelve and pair for two. Numerals often include the preposition of which functions as a particle as in couple of and three of. The following italicized determiners are examples of numerals:

    • One child ate a dozen cookies.
    • The seven books create one series.
    • One hundred and one people have died from a couple of diseases.
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    Quantifiers

    The sixth grammatical form of the determiner in English is the quantifier. Quantifiers are words that provide information about the quantity of a noun. Common English quantifiers include all, each, every, some, and few. Quantifiers also include multiples such as twice, double, and second and fractions such as half, one-half, and two-thirds. Many quantifiers can also contain the preposition of which functions as a particle as in all of, some of, and none of. The following italicized determiners are examples of quantifiers:

    • All students must read some of the assigned readings.
    • None of the cookies burned this time.
    • Few grammarians have written twice the articles.
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    Printable Download

    For a printable study sheet of the six forms of determiners in English grammar, please download The Forms and Function of Determiners in English Reference Sheet.