Determiners

Nouns are often preceded by the words the, a, or an. These words are called DETERMINERS. They indicate the kind of reference which the noun has. The determiner the is known as the DEFINITE ARTICLE. It is used before both singular and plural nouns:

Singular Plural
the taxi the taxis
the paper the papers
the apple the apples

The determiner a (or an, when the following noun begins with a vowel) is the INDEFINITE ARTICLE. It is used when the noun is singular:

a taxi
a paper
an apple

The articles the and a/an are the most common determiners, but there are many others:

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

Many determiners express quantity:

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

Perhaps the most common way to express quantity is to use a numeral. We look at numerals as determiners in the next section.

Numerals and Determiners

Numerals are determiners when they appear before a noun. In this position, cardinal numerals express quantity:

one book
two books
twenty books

In the same position, ordinal numerals express sequence:

first impressions
second chance
third prize

The subclass of ordinals includes a set of words which are not directly related to numbers (as first is related to one, second is related to two, etc). These are called general ordinals, and they include last, latter, next, previous, and subsequent. These words also function as determiners:

next week
last orders
previous engagement
subsequent developments

 When they do not come before a noun, as we’ve already seen, numerals are a subclass of nouns. And like nouns, they can take determiners:

the two of us
the first of many

They can even have numerals as determiners before them:

five twos are ten

In this example, twos is a plural noun and it has the determiner five before it.

Pronouns and Determiners

There is considerable overlap between the determiner class and the subclass of pronouns. Many words can be both:

Pronoun Determiner
This is a very boring book This book is very boring
That‘s an excellent film That film is excellent

As this table shows, determiners always come before a noun, but pronouns are more independent than this. They function in much the same way as nouns, and they can be replaced by nouns in the sentences above:

This is a very boring book ~Ivanhoe is a very boring book
That‘s an excellent film ~Witness is an excellent film

On the other hand, when these words are determiners, they cannot be replaced by nouns:

This book is very boring ~*Ivanhoe book is very boring
That film is excellent ~*Witness film is excellent

The personal pronouns (I, you, he, etc) cannot be determiners. This is also true of the possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his/hers, ours, and theirs). However, these pronouns do have corresponding forms which are determiners:

Possessive Pronoun Determiner
The white car is mine My car is white
Yours is the blue coat Your coat is blue
The car in the garage is his/hers His/her car is in the garage
David’s house is big, but ours is bigger Our house is bigger than David’s
Theirs is the house on the left Their house is on the left

The definite and the indefinite articles can never be pronouns. They are always determiners.

The Ordering of Determiners

Determiners occur before nouns, and they indicate the kind of reference which the nouns have. Depending on their relative position before a noun, we distinguish three classes of determiners.

  Predeterminer Central Determiner Postdeterminer Noun
I met all my many friends

A sentence like this is somewhat unusual, because it is rare for all three determiner slots to be filled in the same sentence. Generally, only one or two slots are filled.

Predeterminers

Predeterminers specify quantity in the noun which follows them, and they are of three major types:

  1. “Multiplying” expressions, including expressions ending in times:

twice my salary
double my salary
ten times my salary

  1. Fractions

half my salary
one-third my salary

  1. The words all and both:

all my salary
both my salaries

 Predeterminers do not normally co-occur:

*all half my salary

Central Determiners

The definite article the and the indefinite article a/an are the most common central determiners:

all the book
half a chapter

As many of our previous examples show, the word my can also occupy the central determiner slot. This is equally true of the other possessives:

all your money
all his/her money
all our money
all their money

The demonstratives, too, are central determiners:

all these problems
twice that size
four times this amount

Post-determiners

Cardinal and ordinal numerals occupy the post-determiner slot:

the two children
his fourth birthday

 This applies also to general ordinals:

my next project
our last meeting
your previous remark
her subsequent letter

Other quantifying expressions are also post-determiners:

my many friends
our several achievements
the few friends that I have

Unlike predeterminers, post-determiners can co-occur:

my next two projects
several other people

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