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Grammatical Forms of English Determiners

Grammatical Forms of English Determiners

Determiners are a closed class of words that provide information such as familiarity, location, quantity, and number about a noun or noun phrase. Determiners differ in form and function from adjectives, which describe attributes of nouns and noun phrases. Determiners perform the grammatical function of determinative. In the English language, determiners are classified into seven categories:

  • Articles
  • Demonstrative determiners
  • Interrogative determiners
  • Possessive determiners
  • Possessive interrogative determiners
  • Quantifiers
  • Numerals

The following sections define and exemplify the seven forms of determiners in the English language.

Articles

Articles are a type of determiner that specify the grammatical definiteness of a noun or noun phrase. The four forms of articles in English grammar are definite, indefinite, negative, and zero articles. The five articles in English are definite the, a, an, no, and Ø. For example:

  • The cabinet in the workroom needs cleaned.
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
  • No children stopped by our house on Halloween.
  • Ø Coffee is my morning beverage of choice.

Demonstrative Determiners

Demonstrative determiners are determiners of literal and figurative distance, meaning the distance is physical (spatial deixis, referring to physical space) or affective (discourse deixis, referring to emotional space including space resulting from time). Physical proximity does not necessarily correlate to emotional proximity. The four demonstrative determiners in English are this, that, these, and those. For example:

  • This problem is giving me a headache.
  • That awful training session complete destroyed my will to live.
  • These cheesecakes taste sickeningly sweet.
  • Those banana cream pies made me absolutely sick!

Interrogative Determiners

Interrogative determiners formulate direct or indirect questions and exclamations. The three interrogative determiners in English are what, which, and whose. For example:

  • What toppings do you want on your half of the pizza?
  • You are attending which university this fall?
  • You are watching whose baby all night!

Possessive Determiners

Possessive determiners express possession of or some other relationship to another word or phrase. The eight possessive determiners in English are my, your, his, her, its, our, their, and whose. For example:

  • I gave my daughter her medicine.
  • Their house is located in his neighborhood.
  • Did you give the dog its treat?
  • Our mother bought her boss his favorite cake.

Possessive Interrogative Determiners

Possessive interrogative determiners both (1) express possession of or some other relationship to another word or phrase, like the other possessive determiners, and (2) ask questions about unknown nouns and noun phrases, like the other interrogative determiners. The only possessive interrogative determiner in English is whose. For example:

  • Whose car is in the driveway?
  • You sent the package to whose children?
  • The strange man bought whose broken lawnmower?
  • Whose baby did you say you were watching?

Quantifiers

Quantifiers are determiners that provide information about the quantity of another word or phrase such as all, each, every, some, and few. Multipliers such as twice, double, and second and fractions such as one-third and half are also quantifiers. Many quantifiers can also contain the preposition of as in all of and some of. For example:

  • She wants fewer rolls and more biscuits.
  • All of the branches broke off the tree.
  • The second film was better than the first.
  • Half the apples fell into the creek.

Numerals

Numerals are counting numbers such as one, two, three, and four that provide information about the amount of a word or phrase. Some grammars consider numerals as a subcategory of quantifiers. For example:

  • Two birds ate four cherries.
  • I have three children.
  • The choir consists of 153 tone-deaf singing nuns.
  • We washed some of the 20 windows.

Determiner Phrases

In English grammar, more than one determiner in the form of a determiner phrase can function as the determinative of a noun phrase or a verb phrase. For example:

  • All three of the children refused to eat any of their vegetables.
  • The thirteen books were each popular titles.
  • All her many accomplishments impressed the many members of the search committee.

Additionally, in English grammar, nouns and noun phrases can also function as determinatives. For more information, please see Using Nouns and Nouns Phrases as Determinatives.

Similar to adjective phrases, determiners provide additional information about a noun phrase or a verb phrase in the form of a present participle. However, unlike adjectives, which describe attributes of nouns and verbs, determiners are a closed class of words that provide information such as familiarity, location, quantity, and number about a noun or noun phrase and that perform the grammatical function of determinative.

Summary

Determiners are a closed class of words that provide information such as familiarity, location, quantity, and number about a noun or noun phrase.

Articles in English grammar are determiners that specify the grammatical definiteness of a noun or noun phrase.

Demonstrative determiners in English grammar are determiners of literal and figurative distance, meaning the distance is physical (spatial deixis, referring to physical space) or affective (discourse deixis, referring to emotional space including space resulting from time).

Interrogative determiners in English grammar are words that formulate direct or indirect questions and exclamations.

Possessive determiners in English grammar are words that indicate possession of or some other relationship to a noun or nominal verb.

Possessive interrogative determiners in English grammar are words that both (1) express possession of or some other relationship to another word or phrase, like the other possessive determiners, and (2) ask questions about unknown nouns and noun phrases, like the other interrogative determiners.

Quantifiers including multipliers in English grammar are determiners that provide information about the quantity of another word or phrase.

Numerals in English grammar are determiners that provide information about the amount of a word or phrase.

Determiner phrases are phrases that consist of two or more determiners plus any p-words.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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