Determiners. Free English Lesson with Test and Certificate.
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How to use determiners in English
A determiner is used to modify a noun. One way to think about determiners is that they answer questions about the nouns. For example, you can say, "Frank is THE English teacher," or "Frank is MY English teacher," or "Frank is AN English teacher." The determiner word - in this case ‘the’, ‘my’ or ‘an’ - makes a difference, as shown in the lesson.
There's lots of examples of the different types of determiners in our lesson.
Your English lesson about Determiners
Welcome to the Determiners lesson! In this lesson, you will learn many of the general rules about determiners and how determiners are used. This topic may seem easy, but many English students make mistakes with determiners.
A determiner is used to modify a noun. One way to think about determiners is that they answer questions about the nouns.
Here are some examples:
Frank is English teacher. (incorrect)
This sentence doesn’t have any determiners, so the listener will have a hard time understanding the meaning of this sentence. Whose English teacher is Frank? Is Frank my English teacher? Was I expecting to meet a specific English teacher today? Why are you telling me that Frank works as an English teacher?
Frank is an English teacher.
Now the listener understands. Frank isn’t my English teacher or a teacher I should recognize. Frank simply teaches English as a profession. Maybe I just want to tell you Frank’s occupation.
Frank is the English teacher.
So, by using the as the determiner, we are telling the listener that she should be expecting to meet a specific English teacher. If Frank goes to meet a new student, he could use this sentence, “Hi, I’m the English teacher.” The new student knows that she is supposed to meet an English teacher today.
Frank is your English teacher.
In this case, Frank will be teaching you specifically.
As you can see from these examples, determiners are small words that are usually very easy to spell, but they are very important when it comes to the overall meaning of the sentence.
Here are the different types of determiners:
articles: a, an, the
demonstratives: this, that, these, those
possessives: my, your, his, her, its, our, their
quantifiers: a few, a little, much, most, some, any, enough, many, a lot of
distributives: all, both, half, either, neither, each, every
difference words: other, another
Let’s begin by looking at the difference between general and specific determiners.
The specific determiners are:
the definite article: the
possessives: my, your, his, her, its, our, their, whose
demonstratives: this, that, these, those
numbers: one, two, three, etcetera.
We use a specific determiner when we believe the listener knows exactly what we are referring to:
Hello, I’m the DJ.
Look at these beautiful flowers.
Thank you very much for your email.
Whose hat is this?
Let’s look at a few of these in more detail. The first type of specific determiner we will discuss is possessive determiners. Possessive determiners - my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their - modify the noun following it in order to show possession.
It is important to see that possessive determiners are different from possessive pronouns - mine, his, hers, yours, ours, their.
- Possessive pronouns can stand alone and are not followed by nouns.
- Possessive determiners, on the other hand, are followed by nouns.
Look at the following examples:
This is my house.
‘My’ is a possessive determiner. It is followed by the noun house which it modifies.
Is that car yours?
‘Yours’ is a possessive pronoun. It is not followed by a noun.
Next, there are four demonstrative determiners in English. They are: this, that, these and those. Demonstrative determiners answer the question, “Which one or which ones?”
- We use this and that if there is only one thing (singular nouns) or an uncountable noun
- We use these and those if we are referring to many things (plural nouns).
Usually, this and these are used for things that are close to us, and that and those are most often used to describe something farther away.
Here’s some examples:
These apples are delicious.
You would use this sentence if you are holding a bag of apples or if you’re standing next to some apples.
Those apples look really good.
You would use this sentence if you are pointing at some apples that are at a little bit away from you.
This apple tastes great!
You would use this sentence if you have an apple in your hand.
Does that apple taste great?
You use this sentence if someone else is eating an apple.
This milk is sour.
Notice that we use this or that for uncountable nouns like milk.
Similar to possessive determiners, you can see that demonstrative determiners can also be used as demonstrative pronouns. When they are used as determiners they are followed by the nouns they modify.
Compare these examples:
This is my camera.
In this instance, the demonstrative is used as a pronoun. It is subject of the verb ‘is’ in this sentence.
This camera is mine.
Here, the demonstrative is used as a determiner (adjective) modifying the noun camera.
Now, let’s move on to general determiners.
The general determiners are:
- a, an, any, another, other, what
More determiners exercises
When we are talking about things in general (that is, not about specific things) and the listener does not know exactly what we are referring to, we can use an uncountable noun or a plural noun with no determiner.
Let’s look at some examples.
Milk is very good for you. (uncountable noun)
Health and education are very important. (2 uncountable nouns)
Girls often do better in school than boys. (plural nouns with no determiner)
OR you can use a singular noun with the indefinite article such as a or an:
A woman was lifted to safety by a helicopter.
A man walking nearby saw the accident. (Notice we use the before accident because we are talking about a specific accident.)
We use the general determiner any with a singular noun or an uncountable noun when we are talking about all of those people or things. For example:
It’s very easy. Any child can do it. (All children can do it)
With a drivers license you are allowed to drive any car.
I like beef, lamb, fish - any meat.
We use the general determiner another to talk about an additional person or thing:
Would you like another glass of milk?
Will you take an additional history exam?
I spoke to John, Helen and another friend.
The plural form of another is other:
I spoke to John, Helen and a few other friends
Lastly, we’ll look at quantifiers. Quantifiers answer the question “How many or how much?”, and once again they come before the nouns which they modify. Examples of quantifiers include:
some, any, few, little, more, much, many, each, every, both, all, enough, half, little, whole, less etc.
Quantifiers can be used before either countable or uncountable nouns.
He knows more people than his wife.
Little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
It’s story time
Now that we’ve learned a lot about determiners, let’s see how they are used in a short story. As you read the following story, pay attention to how the determiners are used.
Vincent loved to play basketball. He wasn’t just a good basketball player. He was the best basketball player in his school. Many people liked to watch him play.
When he first started to play, he wasn’t very good. But, he decided that he wanted to be the best. He practiced for many hours each day. Some people like basketball, but they just play for fun. However, Vincent knew from a young age that he was serious about basketball.
The basketball court was next to his apartment building. There were also other courts in his neighborhood. If one court was too crowded, he would walk to another one. He didn’t want to have to wait to play. He knew that he needed to spend as much time as possible practicing.
His parents didn’t understand. The other children they knew studied music, and computer programming, and they took extra English classes. Why did their son Vincent spend all of his time playing a game instead of preparing for his future?
Vincent told everyone that he was going to be the best Chinese basketball player in the world. He told his parents about other Chinese basketball players such as Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin. He told them that Jeremy Lin went to Harvard. Unfortunately, nothing he said could make them change their mind. His parents just didn’t understand his dream of being an NBA basketball player.
That’s the end of the lesson on determiners.
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