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What Is A Determiner? Types & Examples

What is a determiner? That … is actually a really good question. So buckle up—because the answer can be a little complicated. (And here you thought commas were the toughest of the grammar bunch!)

To start, determiners can be many things. Depending on who you ask, they’ll say some adjectives function as determiners or determiners are a type of adjective. The articles the, a, and an are determiners, but not all determiners are articles. Numbers like one and eight can function as determiners, too. What gives? Well, determiners are often the subject of intense grammatical debate, which makes them, we think, rather intriguing!

Before you get too confused, read on to learn more about just what words are usually considered determiners and how we use them.

What is a determiner?

A determiner is a member of a class of words used to modify nouns or noun equivalents. Determiners help clarify what a noun is referring to and are typically placed before descriptive adjectives. For example, in the sentence Would you like to buy this new book?, the word this is a determiner. It tells us more about the book we are talking about: this book. It’s also placed before the descriptive adjective new.

But wait—isn’t this also a demonstrative adjective? Yes! It is important to note that adjectives have a lot of overlap with determiners. And which words are and aren’t considered determiners varies depending on which grammar resource or style guide you use. Some style guides will note that, in general, any word that modifies a noun but cannot be used as a superlative or comparative adjective is typically labeled as a determiner.

For example, the word happy is not typically considered a determiner because it can be used to create the comparative happier and superlative happiest. On the other hand, the word some would be considered a determiner (if modifying a noun) because it doesn’t have a comparative or superlative form. Something can’t be “somer” than something else, nor can something be “the somest.” So with this trick, you can identify many of the determiners we use, but more explanation is still needed.

Determiner examples

Before we explore the different types of determiners, let’s look at some specific examples.

List of determiners 

The following list contains some examples of words that may be considered to be determiners. As we’ve noted, it is okay if you consider some of these words to be adjectives.

 

  • a
  • an
  • the
  • this
  • our
  • seven
  • any

⚡️Determiners in a sentence

The following sentences show how determiners are used in sentences.

  • A stray cat walked across my porch.
  • I bought three shirts at the store.
  • This clock is older than that one.
  • Each child needs to bring their own lunch.

Types of determiners

Most of the time, determiners are further divided into smaller categories. As mentioned before, some or all of these words may or may not be considered to be other parts of speech depending on which grammar resource you use.

Articles (definite and indefinite)

An article is a word that modifies a noun without describing anything about it. Instead, an article refers to a noun either as a specific or nonspecific thing. In English, the definite article is the and the two indefinite articles are a and an.

The is used to refer to specific or identified things or groups:

 

  • We moved the couch into the living room. (The speaker and their audience know the identity of the couch and the living room)

Looking for more grammar discussions? Take a dive into comparative adjectives then.

A and an are used to refer to nonspecific things or to things that haven’t been previously identified.

 

  • She drew on a piece of paper. (The piece of paper is one of many. Its specific identity is unknown or unimportant)
  • Mark owns a dog. His dog’s name is Champ. (We use a when first introducing the dog into a conversation.)

Demonstratives

Demonstratives, when referring to determiners, refer to the words this, that, these, and those. All four of these words are also often classified as demonstrative adjectives or demonstrative pronouns depending on how they are used in a sentence. However, determiners only modify nouns (or noun equivalents). Whether or not these four words are classified as demonstratives or demonstrative adjectives (or both) varies depending on the grammar resource.

To learn more about how this, that, these, and those can be used to modify nouns, check out our guide to demonstrative adjectives. Everything covered there also applies to demonstratives as determiners.

Best practices when using determiners

Determiners follow all of the same rules as adjectives, which contributes to the debate regarding these two types of words. It is a good idea to review what adjectives are and how to use them, which you can do by checking out our great guide to adjectives. In particular, check out possessive and demonstrative adjectives. The practices we are going to look at here also apply to adjectives.

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Determiners only modify nouns or words/phrases acting as nouns

Regardless of what you call them, all determiners are modifiers. Just like adjectives, they can only modify nouns, pronouns, noun phrases, or anything else functioning as a noun. Determiners don’t modify verbs, adverbs, adjectives, or anything else that isn’t acting as a noun.

Correct: My house (noun) is blue.
Correct: I will buy this one (pronoun).
Correct: Her reading (gerund) is getting better.
Correct: Six laws regarding the housing of pets (noun phrase) were passed today.
Incorrect: She is many hungry (adjective).
Incorrect: The airplanes four flew (verb).

Determiners come before other modifiers

Determiners come before adjectives (or other adjectives) when used to modify nouns. Articles always come before any other modifier.

Correct: This big green apple is really tasty.
Correct: We found my scared, wet kitten.
Correct: She talked to a friendly young Bosnian girl.
Incorrect: He fell into salty ocean the water.
Incorrect: Younger her brother is a chemist.

Determiners rarely have superlative or comparative forms

Usually, determiners are distinguished from adjectives based on superlative or comparative forms. It doesn’t make much grammatical sense to turn a determiner into a comparative or superlative. Determiners rarely have a comparative or superlative form.

Incorrect: I prefer thiser color.
Incorrect: Lenny has morer siblings than Carla.

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