Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pronouns and determiners - an overview

Some words can be both pronouns and determiners, and in some other cases pronouns and determiners are closely related, so it seems to make sense to look at them together.

Determiners can be divided into two groups, usually called groups A and B.
We'll have a look at the definitions for pronoun and determiner after we've looked at the first group.

1. Group A Determiners and their related pronouns

Group A determiners can be categorised as:
  • articles
  • personal
  • possessives
  • demonstratives
Articles - These are a subject in their own right, and have no connection with pronouns, so I'll not be dealing with them in this post. You can find some exercises on articles here.
Let's have a look then at the other Group A categories and their related pronouns:
Personal - Subject
I, they love chocolate -
He, she, it loves chocolate -
We love chocolateWe British don't always understand foreigners.
You love chocolateYou foreigners don't always understand the British
Personal - Object
David likes me, him, her, it, them -
David likes usForeigners don't always understand us British
David likes youThe British don't always understand you foreigners
That coat is mine / his / hersThat's my / his / her coat
That car is ours / yours / theirsThat's our / your / their car
This is delicious chocolateThis chocolate is delicious
That is your chocolate over thereThat chocolate over there is yours
These are delicious.These chocolates are delicious.
Those are OK.Those chocolates are OK.
You can find some exercises based on this, that, these and those here

Time for some definitions

Exercise 1 - complete the definitions

a pronoun is a word that stands and is used a noun, sometimes to avoid repeating it, or when who or what we are talking about is obvious. This noun is known as its .
a determiner is a word that stands a noun. It expresses a(n) : that's to say it identifies which or what person or thing we are talking about; or it talks about the quantity of the people or things mentioned. But unlike a(n) , it doesn't describe the noun's qualities.

A bit more on Group A determiners

1. Group A determiners are used to identify things; this is sometimes called referencing. They say which person or thing is being talked about.
2. Group A determiners cannot be used together - the dog, this dog or my dog, but not this the dog, my this dog, or the my dog.
3. We can also use nouns with a possessive 's as determiners - Danny's car, London's street markets, Britain's birth rate.

2. Determiner or adjective?

In traditional grammar, the determiner doesn't exist as a word class (part of speech), and many dictionaries refer to some of them as adjectives.
Possessive determiners (my, your, her etc) are often referred to as possessive adjectives or even possessive pronouns. The term possessive pronoun, however, is nowadays usually reserved for those words which can stand on their own without being followed by a noun, (mine, yours, hers etc)
Demonstrative determiners are also often referred to on ESL/EFL websites as demonstrative adjectives. As determiners reference and adjectives describe, referring to this and that etc as determiners rather than adjectives makes perfect sense to me. They only tell us which person or object is being referred to; they say nothing which describes that person or object.
Own - Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary refers to this as a pronoun and a determiner, although most other dictionaries refer to it as an adjective. I've gone along with Cambridge, as to me it has more of the referencing qualities of a determiner than the descriptive qualities of an adjective.

3. Group B Determiners and their related indefinite pronouns

Group B determiners can be categorised mainly as:
  • cardinal numbers
  • interrogatives
  • quantifiers
Cardinal numbers - one, two, three etc. These are straightforward and I won't be saying anything more about them here. Ordinal numbers - first, second, third etc are counted as adjectives in English.
Who is that over there? -
Whom did you see? -
Which is my coffee?Which coffee is mine?
What is your name?What name are you giving your child?
Whose is this jacket?Whose jacket is this?
Note - The use of whom, as in this example, is now seen as very formal and rather old fashioned. You can read more about its use here.
She lives on her ownI'm taking my own car.
Note - Always used with a possessive. Also see note 'Determiner or adjective?'
I'll take the red one, pleaseOne day, it might come in handy.
Are these the only ones you've got?One customer said there were none left.
Note - As pronouns, these can be used with determiners, like nouns.
another, other(s)
Delicious biscuits. Can I have another?Have another piece of cake, as well.
Here's one sock, now where's the other?The other sock seems to have gone missing.
You must have some others!My other socks are all in the wash.
Sandra, have you seen the others?The other children are just behind, Miss.
Note - I have a relevant post with exercises here
somebody, anybody, nobody etc
somebody, someone, something, somewhere -
anybody, anyone, anything, anywhere -
nobody, no-one, nothing, nowhere -
PronounsDeterminers / Quantifiers
some, any, no(ne)
Sugar? You'll find some in the cupboardOK. There's some sugar in the cupboard.
Milk? Isn't there any in the fridge?No, there isn't any milk in the fridge.
Do I have cream? No, sorry, none.What! There's no cream either!
Note - All the words in this group can also be adverbs
enough, plenty, more
Have you had enough?I've had enough cake to last me a lifetime.
Well, there's plenty left. -
Are you sure you wouldn't like more?No Thanks. Would you like more tea?
Note - We can use plenty of like a determiner - We've got plenty of time.
all, both, either, neither, several
Did you make it all yourself?All my family can cook.
Including both of the children.Both your children cook as well?
China or Earl Grey? - Either will be fine.Either type of tea is fine by me.
Which of them do you fancy? - Neither.Neither man is really my type.
Have you any cousins? - Several.They live several miles from here.
each and every
They did so well. Give each (one) a prize.Each child was given a prize
- Every Good Child Deserves Favour
much, many, most, a lot (of), lots
Have you any money? - Not much.I haven't got much money with me.
We've got some eggs. - How many?How many eggs do we have?
Who do you like the most?Most people like Ringo.
How much did it cost? - A lot. -
There are lots of people outside. -
Note - Most of the words in this group can also be adverbs
(a) few, fewer, (a) little, less
How many have you got? - A few.Give me a few minutes to think about it.
Few of his films have been successful.Few films can be as boring as this one.
No fewer than twenty turned up.Fewer and fewer people read these days.
A find a little goes a long way.With a little bit of luck.
I understood little of what he said.I had little doubt of his identity
We have less to worry about nowWe also have less money now
Note - Most of the words in this group can also be adverbs

Reminder. The difference between few and a few, and little and a little

Peter has few friendsDavid has a few friends
Emily has little moneySusan has a little money

Exercise 2

1.Who probably has more friends?Peter David
2.Who probably has more money?Emily Susan
3.Few and little meanenough not enough
4.A few and a little meanenough not enough
5.For countable nouns we use(a) few (a) little
6.For uncountable nouns we use(a) few(a) little

A bit more on Group B determiners

1. Group B determiners are mainly quantifiers: they tell us how many / much is being talked about.
2. Some are used with singular countable nouns, some with uncountable nouns, some with plurals and some with more than one kind, eg some and all.
3. We can often put two Group B determiners together.

Combining Group B and Group A determiners

Group B determinerGroup B + of + Group A
We can combine determiners from the two groups using of
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
Note - See grey areas below.

Leaving out of after all, both and half

We can leave out of after these words when they are folowed by nouns, but not when they are followed by pronouns. of
With nounsWith pronouns
all (of) the studentsall of you
both (of) my brothersboth of us
half (of) these appleshalf of them

Combining Group B determiners and pronouns

We can combine Group B determiners and pronouns using of
some of usmost of them
which of youneither of us

Other determiners

There are some determiners that don't fit neatly into these two groups
With Group AWith Group B
othermy other brothermany other people
onlythe only way -
suchsuch a waste of moneymost such problems
whatwhat a beautiful day -

Determiner or pronoun?

Exercise 3 - Decide if the words in blue are pronouns or determiners.

1.Do you want another biscuit?
2.I don't think I could eat another!
3.Have we got any eggs?
4.There are some in the fridge, I think.
5.There don't seem to be very many.
6.I didn't have enough time to go shopping yesterday.
7.Well, there are probably enough for a small omelette.
8.Are both your brothers married?
9.No, neither. Why do you ask?
10.Oh, no reason really.
11.I think there's somebody at the door.
12.I didn't hear anything.
13.It's the same every time, you must be deaf.
14.No, I'm not. Well, only a little.
15.You mean you really do have a problem hearing?
16.Yes, but only a small one. It started a few years ago.
17.I can hear with this ear without any problem
18.But the other one isn't quite so good.
19.I'm really sorry. Which ear did you say?
20.That's OK. It's the left one. Now, which was my coffee?
Many of these words can be used as both pronouns and determiners, but the following can only be one or the other.

Exercise 4 - Decide which these can only be: pronoun(s) or determiner(s)

3.somebody, nobody, anybody and everybody etc.

Grey areas

Look at these sentences:
  • Where are the eggs? - We haven't got any.
  • What about bread? - There's some in the breadbin.
  • Which plates shall I use? - These will do.
There seems to be some discussion as to whether the underlined words here are pronouns or determiners which have had their nouns dropped. I've treated them as pronouns, as they seem to me to be standing in for noun phrases.
Note - In phrases such as some of these oranges, some people would class the first determiner (here - some) as now being a pronoun, while others class it as a determiner. Of the two books listed below as references for example, one talks of them as pronouns, the other as determiners.

Adjective or determiner?

Some words, like same, can be pronouns. But when they function like determiners, they are considered to be adjectives.
PronounAdjective or determiner?
Would you like the same again?Would you buy the same type of car again?
It's the same with me.I have the same problem.

4. Pronouns without determiner equivalents

There are a few other types of pronouns that do not have determiner equivalents
  • reflexive / emphatic
  • indefinite personal / general
  • relative

Reflexive, emphatic and reciprocal pronouns

myself, himself, herself, etcHe's old enough to wash himself now
myself, himself, herself, etcMy wife likes golf, but I myself can't stand it.
each otherThey keep each other company
one anotherThe children help one another with their homework
You can find some exercises on reflexive, emphatic and reciprocal pronouns here.

Relative pronouns

Defining - peopleThe boy who/that broke our window.
Defining - thingsThe ball which/that broke our window
Non-defining - peopleThis boy, who is French, is our neighbour
Non-defining - thingsThis ball, which belongs to that boy, broke our window
After prepositionsThese boys, some of whom are French, play together
PossessionThe boy whose ball broke the window is French
Nominal relativeThat's what I've been trying to tell you
Relative pronouns also include whoever, whosoever, whomever and whatever. But their use isn't so common and is beyond the scope of this overview.
We can also use where and when in relative clauses, but technically these are relative adverbs, standing for in which place and at which time, respectively.

Indefinite personal pronouns

one (people in general)One should always be polite to other people
one (I)One is not amused (Queen Victoria - maybe?)
youYou should always be polite to other people
they (people in general)They say it's going to be a lovely summer.
they (the authorities etc)They're building a new hospital here.
they, them (Singular they)If anyone rings, can you ask them to ring back later.
One - "This use of one is very formal and now sounds old-fashioned. It is much more usual to use you for ‘people in general’ and I when you are talking about yourself."- Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
The use of one to mean people in general is best kept for academic writing if you think you might not seem appropriate. The use of one to mean I (and people like me) is best avoided completely, as it can sound pretentious as well as old-fashioned, if not handled very carefully.
Singular they - I have talked about this in a separate post In praise of Singular they
Note - Probably because pronouns are the only part of speech where English still has cases, their usage is one of the most disputed areas of grammar. Although I find this a fascinating area, I won't be dealing with it in this post, which is mainly about the connection between pronouns and determiners. I did, however, touch on the subject briefly in my lesson on linking verbs, and no doubt will again, soon.

Nouns used like quantifiers

Some nouns are used in a similar way to the determiners a lot of and a few of.
When acting like quantifiers, some of these nouns take a plural verb. But when they are the main noun, they take a singular verb.
As normal nounsAs determiners
The number of abstentions was high.There have been a number of abstentions
There was a majority in favour.The majority of the workers were in favour.
With others the verb depends on whether the noun is singular, uncountable or plural.
Single / uncountablePlurals
A couple of years is a long time.A couple of questions need to be answered.
Half of the harvest was ruined.Half of these apples are rotten.
I've written a bit more about this here.
Some of these nouns are only used with uncountable nouns.
As a nounSimilar to determiner
Can you move up a bit?We've still got a bit of time.

Adjectives used like quantifiers

Some adjectives are used in a similar way to determiners.
As normal adjectivesAs determiners
This food should be sufficient.We should have sufficient food.
While enough is counted as a pronoun / determiner, its synonym sufficient is counted as an adjective.
Your jacket is different from mine.He wears a different jacket every day.
And while same, can be a pronoun, its opposite, different is always counted as an adjective.


  • Michael Swan - Practical English Usage (Oxford) Amazon UK
  • Grammar and Vocabulary for Cambridge Advanced and Proficiency Amazon UK



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another really thorough, educational post!