An important role in English grammar is played by determiners – words or phrases that precede a noun or noun phrase and serve to express its reference in the context. The most common of these are the definite and indefinite articles, the and a(n).

What do determiners do?

Determiners have two main functions: referring and quantifying.


Referring means showing us who or what the noun is pointing to or talking about. The most common types of determiners which we use for referring are articles, possessives and demonstratives:


Where’s the newspaper?


It’s on the sofa. (the means the noun refers to something the speaker and listener both know or are familiar with)


Have you seen my MP3 player anywhere?


Yes. It’s on the kitchen table. (my refers to something which belongs to the speaker; the refers to something the speaker and listener can both identify because they both know or share knowledge about it.)

Do you want this bag or are you going to put it in that box? (this refers to something near the speaker; that refers to something further away.)

Charles is looking for his dictionary. Have you got it? (his means the noun refers to something belonging to a male, in this case, Charles.)


‘Quantifying’ means showing how much of something there is, or how many:

Five people were arrested during an anti-war demonstration in London today.

There are some letters here for you. (some means a non-specific, small number or quantity of something.)

Do you have enough flour to make the bread. (enough means a quantity that is sufficient or adequate for something).


  1. The word "the" is one of the most common words in English. It is our only definite article. Nouns in English are preceded by the definite article when the speaker believes that the listener already knows what he is referring to. The speaker may believe this for many different reasons, some of which are listed below.
  2. In English, the two indefinite articles are a and an. Like other articles, indefinite articles are invariable. You use one or the other, depending on the first letter of the word following the article, for pronunciation reasons. Use a when the next word starts with a consonant...
  3. Demonstratives show where an object, event, or person is in relation to the speaker. They can refer to a physical or a psychological closeness or distance. When talking about events, the near demonstratives are often used to refer to the present while the far demonstratives often refer to the past.
  4. Quantifiers are adjectives and also adjectival phrases that make up important part of English grammar. They convey the notion of quantity (hence the word “quantifiers”) without mentioning the exact number. The main difficulty arises due to the need of selecting different quantifiers for countable and uncountable nouns, ...