What’s a Determiner?
A determiner is a word or phrase that ‘determines’, limits, the meaning of a noun: it accompanies a noun and gives a little bit of extra information about it.
- Articles: the, a/an
- Numbers and similar words: one, two, a few, many, no, some, any…
- Possessive Adjectives and Phrases: my, your, Jenny’s, her uncle’s … (→ Possessive Adjectives and Possessive Pronouns )
- Demonstrative Adjectives: this/these, that/those
- Some Others: enough, too much, neither, both, …
Determiners always go at the beginning of a Noun Group:
- a black cat
- both of the girls
- some people
- my blue suede shoes
- David’s shiny new red car
With most determiners, there can only be one. There are exceptions, but very few.
A/An, Some, and Any
Look at the chart below for an overview:
a/an only goes with singular countable nouns: it basically means ‘one’, but it’s weaker:
- I’ve got a dog.
- I’ve got one dog, not two.
The difference between a and an is phonetic: if the following word starts with a vowel, you use an. If it doesn’t, use a. The reason is simple: it sounds so much better, and it’s so much easier to pronounce.
- She’s got a new mobile phone.
- There’s an apple in the bowl.
some and any are a bit more complicated. You can use either for:
- Uncountable nouns
- Countable nouns in plural
The difference is:
- We use some in affirmative.
- We use any in questions and negations.
- There’s some water in the fridge.
- There are some apples in the bowl.
- There isn’t any milk in the fridge.
- Are there any bananas?
But there are some exceptions: when you make an offer, ask for something, or suggest something, you need some -even if it’s a question:
- Would you like some more tea?
- Could I have some chips, please?
- Why don’t we have some nachos to share, as a starter?
no as a determiner is basically the opposite of a/an: it means ‘zero’. We use it in affirmative sentences that have a negative meaning:
- There’s no cola in the fridge. = There isn’t any cola in the fridge.
But we can also use no with plural nouns:
- There are no cars on the street. = There aren’t any cars on the street.
Agendaweb has two pages of exercises on a/an, some/any, and no.
Compound Forms: Indefinite Pronouns
There are many words that contain some, any, or no plus a noun or other word. Normally, there’s also a version with every:
- something / anything / nothing /everything
- someone / anyone / no-one / everyone
- somewhere / anywhere / nowhere / everywhere
- somebody / anybody / nobody / everybody
- sometimes / anytime / any time / every time
The rules for these words are the same as for some/any/no, with a few rather ‘advanced’ exceptions.
Find exercises on indefinite pronouns here.