Sunday, August 12, 2012

Exploring determiners

I recently came across this explanation of determiners while looking at a business English course book - Intelligent Business Advanced:
There are three types of determiner: central determiners, predeterminers and postdeterminers, according to their position relative to each other and to the noun or noun phrase they describe.
I was a bit surprised at this, as I don't think I've ever come across these terms in TEFL materials before. And having written a post comparing determiners and pronouns, I was a bit worried that perhaps I'd missed something. So I decided to investigate.


Although there are some exercises in this post, it's not really meant to be a lesson, but rather a leisurely exploration of the whole idea of determiners. Some of it is a bit theoretical, and it's not necessary to learn all the terminology used. Just take what you think might be useful to help you understand how determiners are used.
The most important thing is that you should be able to use these words and expressions in practice, not what they are called. There are links below to a couple of posts where you can put the theory into practice.
When doing the exercises, try not to look ahead.

The idea of determiners.

The idea of determiners in grammar is quite new, and there is still some debate about them, for example whether or not they constitute a word class (part of speech). Or whether the word determiner represents the function these words perform. This post reflects what I think is the majority opinion, at least in the world of TEFL.
I will treat determiner as being both a word class - words that are listed in learner's dictionaries as determiners, such as articles and possessives, and also as a function.
I realise there are some different ideas in the world of linguistics, and I talk a little about these in the final section.

What are determiners?

Determiners are always followed by nouns (or their equivalents, such as pronouns and occasionally gerunds), and form the first part of a noun phrase. They have two main functions:
  • They identify, define or reference the noun and answer (or ask) the question - which, what or whose?
    • articles - a, an, the, θ article
    • demonstratives - this, that, these, those
    • possessives - my, his, your + Juliet's, the manager's etc
    • wh-determiners - which, what, whose, whichever, whatever, whatsoever
    • ordinal numbers - first, second, third etc
    • general ordinals - next, last, previous etc
  • They quantify the noun and answer the question - how many or how much?
    • quantifiers - all, some, many, a lot of, enough, other etc
    • cardinal numbers - one, two, three etc
    • fractions - half, two-thirds, three-quarters etc
    • multipliers - once, twice, double, three-times etc
Apart from numbers and the possessives of nouns (Juliet's, the manager's etc), which are limitless, there are about fifty fixed determiners, the majority of which are quantifiers.

Form and function 1

Determiners and adjectives

If there are any adjectives, determiners come before them. Sometimes determiners look a bit like adjectives, and before grammarians came up with the idea of determiners, many of them were indeed considered to be adjectives. But nowadays we think of an adjective as telling us about some quality or attribute the noun has, which determiners don't do. Look at this sentence:
  • This is a picture of my beautiful new car.
The adjectives beautiful and new tells us about qualities the car has. It would still have these qualities if it was your car, or anybody else's car and not my car. The determiner my simply identifies whose car it is, it doesn't tell us anything about any qualities the car may have. There are also more technical reasons why determiners are different from adjectives, but we won't go into that here.
Occasionally a word can be both a determiner and an adjective:
  • There's a little sugar left. (determiner)
  • Can you pass me that little book over there. (adjective)

Determiners and pronouns

When we talk about determiners, we are thinking about their function as much as we are thinking of their form. Many words we use as determiners can also be used as pronouns, some as adverbs and some as nouns. The important thing about determiners is that they must be part of a noun phrase, and tell us something about the identity or quantity of the noun. Remember that a noun phrase can include a pronoun or gerund instead of a noun.

Exercise 1 - identify the determiners in these sentences. Click on a word to underline it. If you change your mind, just click on it again.

1 Look at that huge dog over there.
2 That is my cousin Jane sitting on the sofa.
3 Do you know when the next bus is due?
4 Which book would you recommend? - This one is quite good.
5 Look at this. It's just like the last one we saw.
6 All of them look the same to me.
7 I haven't got enough time to do all my homework.
8 Is there any more pudding. I've finished all mine.
9 There are some eggs in that cupboard.
10 We go to the market every other day.

Numbers etc can also be determiners

They can be quantifiers

When cardinal numbers (one, two, three etc), multipliers (double, twice, three times etc) and fractions (half, a quarter, six eighths etc) come before a noun or a pronoun, they act as quantifying determiners. When they are on their own they are nouns.
  • I've got ten biscuits
  • This one is double the price of that one; it's twice the cost.
  • So it's half the price of that one. That's half what I paid.
  • Three quarters of a kilo. Five eighths of a mile.
Note that in the third example what I paid is a nominal relative clause, a type of noun clause, so counts as a noun.

Or they can identify a noun as part of a sequence

When ordinal numbers (first, second, third etc) come in front of a noun, they act as identifying determiners
  • This will be his tenth birthday.
  • Is that your first coffee today?
The same happens with so-called general ordinals. These identify nouns as part of a sequence, like ordinal numbers, but with words like: last, next, previous etc. Note that some of these can also be used as adverbs.
  • He's already looking forward to his next birthday.
  • She's not going to make the same mistake as the previous time.
When ordinals are used without a noun, they function as adverbs:
  • Peter came first in the race.
  • And Paul came last.

Exercise 2 - tick the boxes where the underlined numbers are being used as determiners

1.Here's two pounds for Susan's present.
2.That's the third time today.
3.We've already come three quarters of the way.
4.A litre of water is a pint and three quarters.
5.Who's next, please?
6.Half of that money is mine.
7.Where was it the last time you saw it?
8.Who came first in the 100 metres?
9.That's double what I paid.
10.The prime minister lives at Number Ten Downing Street.
11.Twice as good and half the price.
12.She gets twice my salary.

Grouping different categories of determiners

We've already seen two ways of listing determiners: by dividing them into categories such as articles and quantifiers, and by grouping those categories into those that identify the noun, and those that quantify it. But there are also some other ways we can group determiners:
  • Definite (or Specific), Indefinite (or General) determiners, and Quantifiers - favoured by Wikipedia and Learn English at the British Council
  • Group A and Group B determiners - the method I'm more used to.
  • Predeterminers, Central determiners and Postdeterminers - the one mentioned in Intelligent Business Advanced. This system is, I think, mainly used by linguists, and is mainly concerned with what order determiners come in when we use more than one.
Some people further subdivide quantifiers into subcategories, like indefinite, demonstrative etc. I'm not going to do that here, as I think I'm already introducing enough terminology, and also people don't always agree on these terms. But if you're interested, there are a couple of links at the end.
We'll now look at the last two methods in some detail.

Group A and Group B determiners

This is the system used in Practical English Usage by Michael Swan, the 'bible' for many EFL teachers (me included), in some course books and on some websites.

Group A determiners

These are used to identify things.
  • articles
  • demonstratives
  • possessives

Group B determiners

These are mainly used to quantify things.
  • wh-determiners
  • quantifiers
  • numbers, fractions, ordinals and multipliers

Exercise 3 - decide which group the underlined determiners belong to

Group AGroup B
1.Look at that cat over there!
2.I've got more money than you.
3.She comes here every day.
4.It's her home from home.
5.All roads lead to Rome.
6.May all your dreams come true.
7.This is the first day of the rest of your life.
8.One of these days, you'll understand.
9.It's just one of life's many little mysteries.
10.Each bedroom has its own en-suite bathroom.
11.We're here for Mary's birthday party.
12.I've no idea what missing chocolates you're talking about.

Putting Group A and Group B determiners together

Combining two Group A determiners

We can't usually combine two Group A determiners:
  • we can say: the car, my car, this car
  • but NOT the my car this the car or my this car
But if we want to combine a possessive with an article or demonstrative we can use the following structure
a/this/that + noun + of + possessive pronoun / noun
  • A friend of mine told me.
  • Tell me about this idea of yours.
  • That joke of David's was really funny.
This is known as the double genitive because we have the idea of possession twice: once with of, and once with the possessive form of the pronoun or noun.

Combining two Group B determiners

When it makes sense, we can combine two Group B determiners
  • I go shopping every few days
  • Is there any more milk
  • She's written all four reports.
We'll look at this in a bit more detail later.

Group B + of + Group A determiner

We can use Group B determiners directly before a noun, but if we want to put a Group B determiner before a Group A determiner, we must use a structure with of:
  • Each boy has his own room.
  • Each of the boys has his own room.
  • Is there any coffee left?
  • Is there any of that coffee left?
We'll look at this in a bit more detail later, too.

Group A + Group B determiners

We can use some Group B determiners after Group A determiners:
  • Dicken's many novels
  • a few minutes
  • it's the other way
Again, we'll look at this in a bit more detail later.

Group B determiners before pronouns

We can use Group B determiners before pronouns, but we need to link them with of
  • Most of us are going to the pub later.
  • Neither of them smoke.
  • Which of you is Mary?

Predeterminers, central determiners and postdeterminers

When we put determiners together we have to follow a certain order

Exercise 4 - these sentences all contain two determiners. Put the words into the correct order. You can click on the words in order, or type them in normally.

Exercise 5 - these sentences all contain two determiners. Put the words into the correct order. You can click on the words in order, or type them in normally.


This is a set of particular Group B determiners. They always go first in any group of determiners, and we can only have one of them; we can't put two together (but see the section on such below). They consist of four types:
  • Quantifiers - all, both, half
  • Other fractions - a quarter, two-thirds etc
  • Multipliers - double, twice, four times etc
  • Intensifiers - such, what, rather, quite - these are usually followed by a(n)
After all, both and half, and other fractions we can optionally use of, and when they are followed by a pronoun, we must use of.


These go last in any group of determiners, but see the construction with of below. They consist of four main types:
  • Cardinal numbers - one, two, three hundred and thirty five etc
  • Ordinal numbers - first, second, tenth etc
  • General ordinals - last, next, previous, subsequent etc
  • Quantifiers(a) few, (a) little, least, many, much, most, other etc
Postdeterminers often come after a central determiner but can also stand alone before a noun.
Here's that ten pounds I owe you.It costs ten pounds
And the first prize goes to ...He won first prize
During the next week or soShe's leaving next week
We've got a little time leftThere's really very little time
Postdeterminers can sometimes be used together.
the next few years     his last three books     those first three miles

Central determiners

These are mostly Group A determiners, but there are a few Group B determiners which are also counted as central determiners. Here is a breakdown of central determiners

Group A (see above)

  • Articles
  • Possessives
  • Demonstratives

Group B (see above)

  • Interrogatives and relatives
  • Negative determiners - no, neither
  • Quantifiers - some, any, each, every, either, another, enough
To put it another way, while all Group A determiners are central determiners, some Group B determiners are predeterminers, some are central determiners and some are postdeterminers
We rarely use more than two determiners together, but for the sake of practice, each of the sentences in the next exercise contains three determiners.

Exercise 6 - these sentences all contain three determiners. Put them into the correct order. You can click on the words in order, or type them in normally.

The two systems compared

PredeterminersCentral determinersPostdeterminers
a, an, the, θ article
this, that, these, those
my, his, your
Sandra's, the dog's
all, both, half
which, what, whose
whichever, whatever
one, two, three etc
other fractions
three quarters, five eighths etc
some, any, no
enough, sufficient
first, second, third
next, last, previous
once, twice, three times etc
each, every, either, neitherquantifiers
many, much, more, most
few, fewer, fewest
little, less, least, several
what, such, rather, quite

Linking determiners with of

Postdeterminer + of + central determiner

While it is often said that postdeterminers, such as many, last are 'always placed after other determiners' (Intelligent Business Advanced), this is not strictly true. As we have seen, some of these words can be used before central determiners when we link them with of, although sometimes the meaning changes:
  • He invited his many friends to the wedding. (all of them)
  • Many of his friends were invited to the wedding. (but not all of them)
  • He finished the last bottle of wine.
  • He finished the last of his wine.
It is perhaps a moot point whether they are determiners or pronouns when used like this. Some people think - determiners, others - pronouns. For example, none is always considered to be a pronoun, so it could be thought that similar constructions would be the same.
  • None of his friends were invited to the wedding.
  • Many of his friends were invited to the wedding.
  • None of the money went to charity
  • Much of the money went to charity

Central determiner + of + Central determiner:

We can also use of to link a Group B central determiner with a Group A central determiner.
Group BGroup B + of + Group A
some orangessome of those oranges
most studentsmost of my students
which coffee?which of these coffees is mine?
Note how each and neither (and every and either) are used
each child (sg)each of the children (pl)
neither brother (sg)neither of her brothers (pl)
Note what happens with no and every
no studentsnone of my students
every bookevery one of these books

Wh-determiners - interrogatives and relatives

Exercise 7a - choose the appropriate wh-determiner to fit the gap.

Click to drop - Fill the gaps by clicking on the appropriate option (in grey). If you change your mind just repeat the process.
1. a shame she can't come.
What - Which - Whatever
2. It doesn't matter way we go.
whichever - whatever - which
3. way we go is fine by me.
Which - Whichever - What
4. The red sweater or the blue, one do you prefer?
what - which - whose
5. method we use, we'll need to be careful.
Which - What - Whatever
6. I wonder time he'll get here.
what - which - whichever
7. coffee is this, yours or mine?
What - Which - Whose
8. strange ideas you do get sometimes.
What - Which - Whatever
9. She keeps little money she has under the mattress.
whichever - what - whose
10. That's the guy car you bumped into yesterday.
what - which - whose
11. Can you tell me way it is to the station?
what - which - whatever
12. You'll never believe an amazing coincidence happened yesterday.
which - what - whatever

Exercise 7b - see if you can match the wh-determiners in the exercise above to their functions. Enter the sentence numbers for each question in numerical order. There is one sentence that is not included.

1. Find two direct questions
2. Find two indirect questions
3. Find one relative clause
4. Find one nominal relative clause with preparatory it
5. Find two other nominal relative clauses
6. Find two sentences with an exclamative determiner
7. Find one sentence with an exclamative clause
You will often see these described as interrogatives, but it's a little more complicated than that. There are a few different types of wh-determiner:
  • interrogative determiners - what, which, whose
    What book are you reading?
    Which holiday did you decide on in the end?
    Do you know whose jacket this is?
  • relative determiners - whose, which (rare)
    This is the man whose wife we met yesterday.
  • nominal relative determiners - what, which, whatever, whichever
    I don't know what book you're talking about.
    Whatever choice you make is fine by me.
    I'll have whichever one you don't want.
  • whatever, whichever can also be used in this type of construction
    Whatever decision we take, she's not going to be very happy about it.
    Whichever way you look at it, we're going to have to tighten our belts.
  • exclamatives - what
    What a mess you've made of your room.

Modifying determiners

I've said that determiners come at the beginning of a noun phrase, before any adjectives and of course the noun. But we can also add certain modifiers before determiners. For example:
  • approximately, roughly, about, just about
  • almost, nearly, practically, virtually
  • more than, less than, no fewer than
  • hardly, barely, scarecely
  • relatively
  • very, so very, too, far too
  • only, not, at
Many of these collocate with certain determiners.

Exercise 8 - join the modifiers in the box to suitable determiners in the sentences.

at   · even   · hardly   · not   · practically   · only   · roughly   · very  
1. There were two hundred people at the wedding reception, maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less.
2. Which was more people than we had expected.
3. And I spoke to every person there.
4. In fact there was a person there that I didn't know.
5. Or to put it another way, there were a few people I didn't know or speak to.
6. I would say that there were most twenty people I didn't know.
7. In fact I was so busy talking I didn't eat much food.
8. It's every day that something like that happens.

And using determiner words as modifiers

In these examples the underlined words are all adverbs
  • It's not that important.
  • I fell all the better for that.
  • There were some forty people there

Problem area 1 - Another and other

Exercise 9 - Complete the sentences using the expressions in the box. Click on a word in the box and then click on an appropriate gap. If you change your mind, just repeat the process.

another   · any other   · other   · some other   · the other   · this other  
1. I have brother.
2. My brother is a dentist.
3. She has sisters.
4. Her sisters are still all at school.
5. Have you ideas?
6. Have I told you about idea of mine.
7. This road's too busy. We'd better find way.
8. Look! There' your sister on side of the road.
Remember that another simply means an + other, is with singular nouns, and is never used with the, this etc.
  • Singular
  • Indefinite - Would you like another biscuit?
  • Definite - Shall we try the/this/my other one?
  • Plural
  • Indefinite - Are there any/some more biscuits?
  • Definite - Look at the/these/my other ones.
However we can also use another with few, numbers and words that are like numbers (postdeterminers) before plural nouns. When another is modifying the subject, or follow there is/are, whether we use a singular or plural verb depends on the context.
  • Another few years isn't too long to wait.
  • It's just another couple of kilometres.
  • Another ten people are waiting outside.
  • There are another dozen or so guests still to arrive.

Problem area 2 - Little and a little, few and a few

Exercise 10 - Complete the sentences using the expressions in the box. Click on a word in the box and then click on an appropriate gap. If you change your mind, just repeat the process.

a few   · a little   · countable   · enough   · few   · fewer   · less   · little   · not enough   · uncountable  
1. Little, a little and less are use with nouns.
2. Few, a few and fewer are used with nouns.
3. A little and a few suggest that we have although not a lot.
4. Little and few suggest we have for us to be really happy.
5. She's got friends and spends most of her time alone at home.
6. I've got money, why don't we go to the pub.
7. There were people there than I thought there would be.
8. There's time before the film starts, so hurry up.
9. There are really good shows at the festival this year, so it's well worth going to.
10. Farmers produced rice this year than last year.

The difference

Remember that a little and a few are either neutral or suggest enough. Few and little, on the other hand, suggest a lack of something - not enough.

A couple (or so) of special cases


Although such is listed here as a predeterminer, it can also appear:
  • after another predeterminer
    All such questions should be addressed to my colleague.
  • after a central determiner
    No such problems have come to our attention.
  • after a postdeterminer
    Many such people are affected by this problem.


I've listed enough as a central determiner, but it can also appear after the noun
  • There'll be enough time for that after lunch.
  • There'll be time enough for that after lunch.


Every is usually listed as a central determiner. Now it's meant to be one of the conditions of central determiners that you can't put two together. But we do sometimes use every after possessive determiners, which are also central determiners. It is occasionally intensified with each and.
  • The students always listen intently to the teacher's every word. (Yeah, right!)
  • He told his supporters he spends his every waking hour thinking about them.
  • The athlete showed her supple strength in her every gesture.
  • The trainer carefully watched her each and every move.

Grey areas

Own and same

Dictionaries list these as adjectives, but some commentors consider them to be postdeterminers. This seems to make sense to me, as they have more of an identifying role than a describing one. And like some other determiners, they can also function as pronouns.
  • I've got my own car.
  • Are we all going in the same car?


Some grammarians also consider partitive nouns to be functioning as determiners. As they usually follow other determiners, they are also thought of as postdeterminers.
  • Can I have a glass of water, please?
  • We'll need six bottles of wine.
  • Could you pass me that packet of cigarettes?
  • I always especially appreciate my first cup of coffee.
  • Whose bar of chocolate is this?
  • Look at these bunches of flowers!
  • Each piece of the watch is made by hand.

Predeterminers in learners' dictionaries.

The four main British learner's dictionaries (Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillans and Longman's) and the American Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary all define predeterminers, but not central and post-determiners.
Their examples of predeterminers are just the same as the ones we've been looking at, but they all define predeterminers as coming before determiners, as though predeterminers were a separate category of word from determiners, rather than one of three broad types of determiner.

Weird and wonderful - unusual and non-standard determiners

Exercise 11 - Complete the sentences using the expressions in the box. Click on a word in the box and then click on an appropriate gap. If you change your mind, just repeat the process.

any old   · certain   · nth   · said   · sod all   · them   · umpteen   · umpteenth   · us   · we   · yonder   · you  
1. It doesn't matter which; one will do.
2. There's milk left in the fridge. I'll have to go and buy some.
3. I was just talking quietly to this policeman when policeman arrested me for loitering!
4. I've asked him times, but he always forgets.
5. Hey, mate! Have you got one of thingummies for opening beer? bottles
(dialect / non-standard - used instead of 'those')
6. For the time, will you please do as you're told!
7. She's a perfectionist and always does everything to the degree.
8. That's how teachers feel about these things.
9. People sometimes find British a bit reserved.
10. At the foot of mountain there runs a clear stream. (from a song)
(old fashioned / dialect / poetic) - means 'over there'
11. I hope students have all done your homework.
12. He has a Je ne sais quoi I rather like.

Table comparing different systems of categorisation

articlesa, an, θ articleGroup Aindefinitecentral
theGroup Adefinitecentral
demonstrativesthis, that, those, theseGroup Adefinitecentral
possessivesmy, your, Peter's etcGroup Adefinitecentral
wh-determinerswhich, what, whose, whichever etcGroup Bdefinitecentral
quantifierssome, any, noGroup Bindefinitecentral
anotherGroup Bindefinitecentral
each, every, either, neitherGroup Bquantifierscentral
all, both, halfGroup Bquantifierspre
three quartersGroup Bquantifierspre
once, twice, three-timesGroup Bquantifierspre
such, what, rather, quiteGroup Bquantifierspre
many, few, several, other etcGroup Bquantifierspost
next, last etcGroup Bquantifierspost
numbersone, two etcGroup Bquantifierspost
first, second, third etcGroup Bquantifierspost

Using quantifiers before different types of noun.

before singular countable nouns
eacheach day
everyevery week
eithereither way
neitherneither way
anotheranother day
before plural countable nouns
(a) fewa few friends
(not) many(not) many friends
bothboth times
severalseveral friends
otherother people
before uncountable nouns
(a) littlea little money
(not) much(not) much money
a (little) bit ofa (little) bit of money
a (great) deal ofa (great) deal of money
before plural countable nouns and uncountable nouns
allall roadsall chocolate
somesome friendssome money
anyany friendsany money
nono friendsno money
moremore friendsmore money
enoughenough friendsenough money
a lot of, lots of, plenty ofa lot of friendsa lot of money

Form and function 2 - possessive my, your etc

Geeky stuff part 1.

Determiners, adjectives or pronouns?

Once upon a time, personal pronouns were said to have five forms:
  • Subject - I, he, she, it, we, you, they
  • Object - me, him, her, it, us, you, them
  • Possessive (dependent) - my, his, her, its, our, your, their
  • Possessive (independent) - mine, his, hers, ours, yours, theirs
  • Reflexives - myself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourslves, themselves
So my, his, your etc were defined as possessive pronouns. But at some time certain people started to argue that my, his, your etc couldn't really be pronouns as they didn't replace nouns, like you, she, him etc, but stood before nouns instead. So they decided they must be adjectives and called them possessive adjectives, and this is still how you'll find them described on many more traditional websites.
But as we saw earlier, they're not really like adjectives either, so when the idea of determiners came along, possessives seemed to fit in perfectly with the defining role of determiners. At that point many grammars, dictionaries and course books started to call them possessive determiners, and that is the standard position today. The term possessive pronoun is usually reserved for those words that stand alone without a noun - mine, hers, yours etc.
Now there are some who dispute this and say that my, his, your etc have in fact been possessive pronouns all along. What's a poor common-or-garden EFL teacher like me supposed to think? Let alone the unfortunate students?
But fortunately, for the time being at least, majority opinion in the EFL world seems overwhelmingly to be that they are possessive determiners, and with good reason I would have thought. So on this blog, possessive determiners they shall remain. I'll finish with this quotation from Introduction to English Grammar by Sydney Greenbaum and Gerald Nelson (linked to below)
A possessive determiner is dependent on a noun: Here is your book. The other set of possessives contains the possessive pronouns. A possessive pronoun functions independently: The book is yours. The possessive determiners are not pronouns ...

Form and function 3 - determiners and determinatives

Geeky stuff part 2.

If you start investigating determiners on the Internet, sooner or later you will come across the word determinative, and it's not always clear what the difference is between a determinative and a determiner, or if indeed there is any difference. As I understand it, the reason for using these different expressions goes something like this:
Nowadays determiners are usually regarded as a word class, but as we have seen, some people also consider certain phrases to be functioning as determiners. Lets look at possessive nouns for example:
  • David's house.
  • David Cameron's house.
  • The prime minister's house
  • The prime minister of Britain's house.
As we saw previously, possessive nouns, eg David's are usually considered to be determiners, but what about these other underlined phrases, which perform exactly the same function. Should we consider them to be determiners too? And what about those partitives we looked at? And expressions like a lot of, a number of etc?
Surely word classes are for words, not phrases? So when the very influential Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) was published in 1984, the authors proposed using the word determiner for the lexical category of individual words which make up the word class, about fifty of them. And they proposed the word determinative to describe the function they, and all those phrases, perform. At least that's how I understand it.
Well, I thought I had it worked out until I found that a few websites, like English Jack, used exactly the opposite definitions. It turned out that a more recent and equally infuential reference grammar, the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CaGEL), for reasons best known to themselves, apparently, had taken exactly the opposite position from the CGEL, listing determinative as a word class, and determiner as the function. So confusion reigns.
Perhaps because of this confusion, the EFL community of dictionaries and course book writers have taken their own line, treating determiner as a word class, but sometimes also using it to describe the function. I've never seen the word determinative used in any EFL publication. So unless you're really geeky, I'd just ignore determinative altogether. Forget I ever mentioned it.


Related posts on this blog


Some of these links are more for reference than anything else. Some of them are quite technical, especially those maked ***.

Definite, indefinite and quantifiers

Group A and Group B determiners

Predeterminers, central determiners and postdeterminers

University of Wisconsin-Parkside

From a university English course. These are quite detailed, but not too hard to understand. They include a few tree diagrams.

The six categories of determiners approach

Videos on YouTube


  • Wiktionary - a list of determiners
  • English Jack - a list of determiners - but he calls them determinatives and doesn't include possessives
  • Roberta Barresi - very detailed and includes a breakdown of categories of quantifiers.

Possessive determiners or possessive pronouns?

Determinatives and determiners ***


Brett Reynolds said...

It's actually standard to have separate labels for different things. You could get by using 'photographer' for both the person who takes the picture and the picture itself, but it would be confusing.

Huddleston's use of 'determinative' for the category and 'determiner' for the function predates Quirk et al's opposite terminological choice. In X-bar theory, they have 'determiner' for the category and 'specifier' for the function. Halliday uses 'determiner' for the category and 'Deictic' for the function (note the capital on the function, a notational convenience to help the reader keep categories and functions distinct).

Warsaw Will said...

Hi Brett, nice of you to drop by. Sorry if I got the chronological order wrong. I take your point about photographer and photography, but it wouldn't be so clear if I started calling the person a photography and the thing photographer, would it? And this seems to me to be the situation with determiner and determinative.

That's all well and fine for professional linguists and grammarians who can keep track of these things. Although I don't know much about theoretical grammar, I admit I find these sort of arguments quite interesting, but I do think the needs of linguists, which are largely to do with analysis, are very different from those of EFL/ESL teachers and students.

My average student is a busy professional with a family, who does maybe one and a half hours of English a week. They're not particularly interested in grammar, they just want to learn to speak the language. What they need are as few technical terms as possible on a need to know basis, and most importantly, everyone using the same terms.

And I don't suppose many TEFL teachers are that interested in theoretical grammar either. Remember the average TEFL teacher has had 4 weeks training - for everything. In my experience they are a pretty dedicated bunch, but what they are interested in is helping students to speak English, not getting bogged down in grammatical niceties. What we need are easy tools to work with, not more complication.

So as far as lessons are concerned, I will stick with the terminology used by the vast majority of EFL course books, dictionaries and grammars.

But on this blog I want to give students a little more, so I touch on topics like this, as well as talking about some of the more disputed areas of English.

Brett Reynolds said...

Your chronology was right as far as it went, but Huddleston had a previous book that you hadn't mentioned. As I've said elsewhere, I think your choice to call the category determiner and the the function determinative is fine, as long as you have different terms for different things.

A few small points. If the set {my, your, his, her, etc.} are determiners, then how do you deal with "She didn't like my spanking the children," where no other determiner will work. You can't say "*She didn't like the spanking the children;" It would have to be "She didn't like the spanking of the children."

Also, those books that consider words like 'some' to be pronouns sometimes all (as far as I know) include the partitive construction "some of the" as a pronoun use. You don't. On the other hand, you can't replace 'some' by an antecedent, so a 'determiner' analysis makes more sense.

Warsaw Will said...

I am not a scholar, simply a humble EFL teacher. I never use the word determinative because it simply isn't part of EFL terminology. I only did in this post as a sort of aside.

And I call the possessives my, your etc determiners because just about every EFL course book, dictionary, website and grammar book under the sun calls them determiners. Not to mention the British National Corpus. I really don't think that it's me that's out on a limb here, but I take your point about the possessive before a gerund. In practice I think we just call them possessives anyway.

As for some standing on its own, I agree it's a grey area, and did say that in the bit about some of. Some EFL books treat it as a pronoun, Shaw as a determiner. As I say in my blurb on the right, I make no claims to be any sort of expert, I just follow the majority view in my field.

These are fascinating arguments, but I don't see how they help the teaching of English to foreign learners, a point I don't think you have addressed here.

Brett Reynolds said...

I'm not sure either how they help the teaching of English to foreign learners. It's something I've thought about a lot, and my best answer is simply that, where I know of a better way of doing something, I will follow it unless there are obvious detriments to doing so.

But if you find these distinctions unimportant for this purpose, why, do you include exercises asking students to find the determiners or distinguish between group A and group B determiners? Why do you have a whole post on the differences between determiners and pronouns?

Warsaw Will said...

I didn't say I find distinctions unimportant; I said that as long as there is no agreement about the difference between determiner and determinative (or even that there is a difference - see below), and as long as determinative is not part of TEFL vocabulary, I won't be using it. I've just checked about a dozen dictionaries, and most don't mention it at all. Oxford online and the Free Dictionary do have it but call it a less common expression for determiner. Only Wordnik and Wiktionary separate them from determiners, but I think in opposite directions.

Determiners and pronouns are, however, very much part of TEFL terminology, and The Group A and B system is used by Michael Swan (who I wrongly referred to as Shaw earlier), whose Practical English Usage is the reference work par excellence for many British TEFL teachers, as well as a few EFL/ESL web sites. And as I explained at the beginning of the determiners post, the reason I wrote about pre-, central and post-determiners, was because they had cropped up in a TEFL course book, which had surprised me. In any case 'Exploring Determiners' is one of a number of posts I have done for those who would like to delve a little further into grammar, it is by no means intended to be an essential lesson. I see it more as going on a journey than teaching, and they are usually as much a learning process for me as for the readers. I don't actually do much of this stuff in class, this is simply my hobby.