Articles, Determiners and Quantifiers


Articles, determiners, and quantifiers are those little words that precede and modify nouns:

(the teacher, a college, a bit of honey, an apple)
Sometimes these words will tell the reader or listener whether we’re referring to a specific or general thing (the garage out back; A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!); sometimes they tell how much or how many (lots of trees, several books, a great deal of confusion). The choice of the proper article or determiner to precede a noun or noun phrase is usually not a problem for writers who have grown up speaking English, nor is it a serious problem for non-native writers whose first language is a romance language such as Spanish. For other writers, though, this can be a considerable obstacle on the way to their mastery of English. In fact, some students from eastern European countries — where their native language has either no articles or an altogether different system of choosing articles and determiners — find that these “little words” can create problems long after every other aspect of English has been mastered.

Determiners are said to “mark” nouns. That is to say, you know a determiner will be followed by a noun. Some categories of determiners are limited (there are only three articles, a handful of possessive pronouns, etc.), but the possessive nouns are as limitless as nouns themselves. This limited nature of most determiner categories, however, explains why determiners are grouped apart from adjectives even though both serve a modifying function. We can imagine that the language will never tire of inventing new adjectives; the determiners (except for those possessive nouns), on the other hand, are well established, and this class of words is not going to grow in number. These categories of determiners are as follows: the articles (an, a, the — see below; possessive nouns (Joe’s, the priest’s, my mother’s); possessive pronouns, (his, your, their, whose, etc.); numbers (one, two, etc.); indefinite pronouns (few, more, each, every, either, all, both, some, any, etc.); and demonstrative pronouns. The demonstratives (this, that, these, those, such) are discussed in the section on Demonstrative Pronouns. Notice that the possessive nouns differ from the other determiners in that they, themselves, are often accompanied by other determiners: “my mother’s rug,” “the priests’s collar,” “a dog’s life.”

The (Definite article)

Developed by a word meaning this.
Signals as a particular person or thing – the student sitting next to you.
Used with singular or plural nouns.


1. For known persons or objects in the environment:

He walked in to the house and huge his coat in the closet.

2. For persons, things or ideas particularized by the verbal context:

a.    Preceding context- A strange dog came in to the porch. The dog seemed very friendly.
b.    Following context- the man standing near the window will be our guest speaker tonight.

3. For a class as a whole:

The lion is an animal.

4. With a ‘ranking’ adjectives:

The best way, the fifth lesson

5. With nouns or gerunds

The election of officers
The changing of the guard

6. In of phrases after words of quantity

Most of the men in the factory
Four of the children from that school

7. For place names

The Mississippi River
The Alps

A (Indefinite article)

Developed from a word meaning one. An used before vowel sounds.
Signals an unspecified one of others- a student sitting in the front row.
Used chiefly with singular countable nouns.


1.    In the sense of one, or each.

I waited an hour.

His rent is $200 a month.

2.    For an unidentified member of a class.

We saw a lion at the zoo.

3.    For a representative member of a class.

a.    Identifying an individual member
That animal is a lion.
b.    Defining a smaller class
The lion is an animal


In general statement, it is possible to use the, a, an , or no article with a concrete countable noun that represent a class.

‘The’ The lion is a wild animal
‘The’ emphasizes the class itself, without regard for concrete representative of the class.

‘A’ A lion is a wild animal.
‘A’ emphasizes an individual representative of a class. It has the sense of any.

‘No article’ Lion are wild animals.
The plural forms without an article emphasizes all the representative of this class.


Since many general statements may be made with class words that are either singular or plural, it is often preferable to use the plural for persons so that further reference to the class word can be made with the pronoun they, which is neutral with the respect to gender.

Singular class word:

A student should always try to do his (or his or her) best. (pronouns that are required by strict grammatical rules.)

Plural class word:

Students should always try to do their bests.
(their refers to both males and females)

To be Continued…

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