DETERMINERS

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Understanding Determiners and Their Order of Appearance

Determiners are words that precede head nouns in a noun phraseOpens in new window.

Determiners introduce noun phrases. They express important characteristics about head nouns, such as definiteness or indefiniteness, possession, quantity and the kind of reference of the noun phrase Opens in new window.

Grammarians identify several kinds of determiners. Many of these are listed below, with examples 1 through 10.

  1. Articles (a/an, the) Examples

      • He met a woman.
      • The woman got out of an airplane.

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  2. Demonstrative determiners (this/that, these/those) Examples:

      • I want that book not this one.
      • These sweaters are more expensive than those sweaters over there.
  3. Possessive determiners (my, his/her, our, your, its, their) Examples:

      • That’s her book.
      • This is my book over there.
  4. Nouns as possessive determiners (John’s, Liam’s) Example:

      • Kim’s car is older than Jessica’s car.
  5. Quantifiers (all, any, few, many) Examples:

      • She has all the money.
      • There are many ways to do it.
  6. Partitives (glass of, loaf of, bit of, acre of) Example:

      • He bought a loaf of bread.
  7. Cardinal numbers (one, two, three) Example:

      • She bought three hats.
  8. Ordinal numbers (first, second, next, last) Example:

      • That is the second time he has done that.
  9. Multipliers (double, twice, three times) Example:

      • She bought double the amount we need.
  10. Fractions (three-fourths, two-fifths) Example:

      • Three-fourths of the audience was made up of young people.

ORDER OF DETERMINERS IN NOUN PHRASES

It is possible to identify a relative order of occurrence for these different types of determiners with a noun phrase by looking at them in terms of the general categories listed in the table below: predeterminers, central determiners, and postdeterminers.

Predeterminers 1Central Determiners 2Postdeterminers
quantifiers (all, both, each)quantifiers (any, every, some)quantifiers (many, much, few, little, less, least, more, most)
multipliers (double, twice, five times)articles (a/an, the)cardinal numbers (one, two)
fractions (three-fourths, two-fifths)possessive determiners (my, our, your)cardinal numbers (one, two)
noun as possessive determiners (John’s, Liam’s)ordinal numbers (first, second, another, next, last)
demonstrative determiners (this/that)partitives (glass/bottle/jar of)

The order shown in the table represents a general tendency that applies to a sequence of pronominal modifiers. Note that different types of quantifiers can occupy different positions and are categorized accordingly; for example, all is a predeterminer, every is a central determiner, and many is a postdeterminer.

The other determiner types (multipliers, articles, partitives, etc.) each occupy just one category. A head noun can be directly preceded by a member of any category, but if determiners from different categories are used, switching the order—predeterminer, central determiner, postdeterminer —results in ungrammaticality, as 11d) and 11h) demonstrate.

      • Both sisters wanted to go. → quantifier, noun
      • The sisters wanted to go. → article, noun
      • Both the sisters wanted to go. → quantifier, article, noun
      • *The both sisters wanted to go. → article, quantifier, noun
      • Those children are coming. → demonstrative determiner, noun
      • Two children are coming. → cardinal number, noun
      • Those two children are coming. → demonstrative determiner, cardinal number, noun
      • *Two those children are coming. → cardinal number, demonstrative determiner, noun
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  • References
    • The Teacher's Grammar of English with Answers: A Course Book and Reference Guide Determiners and Their Order of Appearance (Pg 186-188) By Ron Cowan.

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