Determiners are words used before a noun or noun phrase. These words give context, and provide a detailed reference or specification. They give information about a noun. The most common determiners are the, an, and a.

The is considered to be a definite determiner, while a and an are considered to be indefinite determiner.

Words like this and that are also used as determiners, called demonstrative determiners.


Other kinds of determiners include:

Possessive determiners – the teacher’s, my, your

Quantifying determiners – all, most, four

The terminology in the area of determiners is not set. Some would consider certain determiners to be adjectives, not determiners. The very broad breakdown of determiners is into four:

1. Definite – meaning that the noun phrase which results is defined specifically. Examples:

This apple is bad

Whose line is it, anyway?

Take what you want

2. Indefinite – meaning that the noun phrase resulting is not defined specifically. Examples:

An ox is loose on the grounds

Some like it hot, but others do not

Any people who were involved should come forth

3. Quantifiers – which give quantity and measurement to a noun. Examples:

A couple of shoes are all I need

Four books have fallen to the ground

A number of people were arrested

4. Personal – in certain phrases, it indicates a specific person or group of people. Examples:

As we all know, today is my birthday

You guys are brilliant

Us wise guys have a code to follow (not formal, but still used)

Determiners may be combined for specification and structure. Examples:

  • These two old men are jumping rope
  • The many adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • He is a man three times my senior

As far as determiners and adjectives are concerned, some differences do exist. This helps classify and categorize words correctly. Sometimes, determiners can be used instead of articles while adjectives cannot. Example:

My nose is used, not the my nose. The article the can be dropped. However, when saying big nose, it can also convert to the big nose, big being an adjective.

Apart from a few exceptions, determiners have no comparative and superlative forms. Adjectives do.

When determiners and adjective appear in the same sentence, such as the big nose, the determiner comes first. The big nose, not big the nose.


Sometimes, no determiner is necessary. This is known as a zero determiner, because it does not exist in the sentence. Examples:

Silence is golden, as opposed to the silence is deafening. The first sentence is a zero determiner, and the other has the definitive the.

I saw oil on the road, as opposed to your oil is dripping on the road. The first is unspecified and unmeasurable, while the latter is more specific.

Proper names of people, places, and things can also be used without determiners, because they are innately self-determined. Example:

Volkswagen Beetles are great cars, as opposed to his Beetle is a great car.

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