So, What Exactly is a Determiner?

by Kaycee Gnatowski you ever flipped through the pages of an English grammar book or browsed through the Internet and stumbled upon the word “determiner?” As you rack your brain for past grammar lessons, you draw a blank and come to the conclusion that this obviously must be a term of non-importance. However, for all of you writers out there, listen up—determiners are one grammar lesson you do not want to miss.

Determiners are one of those grammatical forms that are learned in school, but quickly forgotten because, honestly, who can remember the word “determiner?” The truth is,writers use this form of grammar on a daily basis without even realizing how these small words play a big role in their pieces. You can remember what determiners are and what exactly their role is in English grammar by thinking of them as words that precede or modify a noun; in other words, a person, place or thing.

Now that you understand the basic meaning of what a determiner is, let’s dig deeper to see what else this form of grammar does. Determiners are known to appear before a noun in a sentence and can further explain various parts of the text including: defining someone or something, identifying an amount and indicating how things are distributed.

There are three different types of determiners which include the articles, demonstratives and quantifiers; all of which are used in every day communication. Before you begin to feel overwhelmed, let’s break down what each form means.

Article: This form of determiner is used to explain if a noun is referring to someone or something specific through words such as an and a.

Demonstratives: This word is actually just a fancy way of portraying time and location through words such as these and this.

Quantifiers: This form does exactly what its name suggests; it represents the amount of something through words such as few and little.

Still feeling a bit confused? If so, take a look at a few examples to help clear things up.

Our cat played for an hour with the mouse. In this sentence, the word an is the definite article because it is referring to something that is specific.

My books are on those chairs. The word those is the demonstrative because it is representing the location of the books.

I have a little bit of money for the movies. In this sentence, the word little is the quantifier because it is referring to the quantity of cash.

So, determiners are a piece of cake, right? This grammatical term is not as scary as it looks, and as long as you remember that they modify and come before a noun, you will become a pro in no time.