Determiners: Some, Any, No, and A/An

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.

Examples are:

  • 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

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/any

some and any are a bit more complicated. You can use either for:

  1. Uncountable nouns
  2. Countable nouns in plural

The difference is:

  • We use some in affirmative.
  • We use any in questions and negations.

Examples:

  • 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

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.

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