There are four types of determiners in English. They are articles, demonstratives, possessives, and quantifiers. While the other parts of speech are very clear and well established, there is some debate over what can be classed as a determiner.
Determiners are words that are necessary for proper syntax. This means that they are essential for the basic structure of sentences. While older grammars tend to class articles in a separate category, many of us now group them as determiners because they are syntax words.
Another potentially confusing group is the possessives. You may be thinking, “hey! We learned that these are called possessive adjectives and possessive pronouns, so what are they doing here?” It’s a fair question. To understand the difference, compare the following sentences:
The yellow dictionary is her book. Her is a determiner in this sentence, because it is introducing the noun car.
Her book is yellow. In this sentence, her is a possessive adjective, because it is part of the noun phrase her book.
A similar issue can occur when you want to determine if a word is a demonstrative determiner or a demonstrative pronoun. The trick here is to remember that pronouns replace nouns.
This glass is dirty. This is a determiner. You can identify determiners, because they are followed by the noun that they modify.
This is dirty. Here, this replaces the noun glass, and so it is a possessive adjective.
The articles are a, an, and the.
A and an are indefinite. We put a before a singular noun to refer to any one thing in a category. In the example above, there are various T-shirts, and I want any one of them.
An follows the same rules as a. The only difference is that we add the ‘n’ to separate the definite article a and another vowel sound.
An ice cube
The is called the definite article, because it refers to something definite, and to one specific thing in a category. Off al on the T-shirts, I will get the pink one with the red heart.
Learn more about articles.
Demonstrative Determiners are the same words as demonstrative pronouns. They are this, that, these, and those. The difference is that demonstrative determiners go before nouns, while the pronouns replace the noun.
This photograph is of my old house. This is a determiner in this sentence.
This is of my old house. This is a pronoun in this sentence.
Learn about demonstrative pronouns.
These are also called possessive adjectives. Some grammarians argue that they should be classes as determiners, because they are essential to the basic syntax of sentences, while adjectives are optional. It is a valid point. In this guide, we called them adjectives, because it is what most students have been taught.
Learn about possessive adjectives.
Quantifiers tell us about the amount or the degree of something. Some common quantifiers are enough, some, any, much, and many.
Learn about quantifiers.