Chapter 1-7: Determiners & Quantifiers
Before learning about determiners and quantifiers, it is instructive to clarify some vocabulary that will be used on this page:
Nouns, as discussed in Chapter 1-2, are words used to name a person, animal, place, thing, and abstract idea.
Noun phrases, as discussed in Chapter 7-1-2, are a group of words (or even a single noun) that can serve as a sentence's subject, object, or prepositional object.
Determiners set context. They are words that come before a noun or noun phrase. They are used to refer to someone or something in either a specific or non-specific way. For second language learners, it is easiest to think of determiners as including articles (Chapter 1-4), adjectives (Chapter 1-5), and partitives (Chapter 1-6). They are divided up into two categories: specific and general.
Specific determiners concretely refer to known or identified, precise nouns or noun phrases. People use them when they believe the listener or reader knows exactly which person, place, thing, or abstract idea is being referred to.
General determiners abstractly refer to a noun or noun phrase in imprecise and ambiguous terms. Listeners or readers will understand that the person, place, thing, or abstract idea that is under discussion is being referred to in a "universal" sense.
Quantifiers have their roots in the word "quantity." Like determiners, quantifiers come before a noun or noun phrase—in fact, quantifiers often replace determiners. Determiners describe "how many" or "how much" of a noun is being referenced. Their usage can be sorted into two categories: quantifiers used with countable nouns and quantifiers used with non-countable nouns.
Determiners and quantifiers cause a great deal of difficulty for English as Second Language learners. Before reading this page, consider the following sentences and see if you understand when and why these determiners and quantifiers were used…
Ø Apples are good for your health.
The apples are starting to go rotten.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Some apples are sweeter than other apples.
These apples are more expensive than those apples.
* The "Ø" symbol means "empty" or "nothing." In this case, it means "no article is used."
As the earlier definition suggested, determiners are either specific or general. The tables, below, provide detailed information on these two types of determiners:
As the earlier definition suggested, quantifiers are categorized depending on whether they're used with countable or non-countable nouns. Some quantifiers can be used for both. The table, below, provides detailed information on quantifiers:
* Note: this list is not exhaustive. There are other quantifiers out there.
¹ There is a nuance in meaning between the words “few” and “a few.” There is also a nuance in meaning between the words “little” and “a little.” The words “few” and “little” tend to have a negative connotation whereas “a few” and “a little” tend to have a positive connotation.