The word classes covered so far in this series have been lexical words: nouns (1 and 2), lexical verbs, adjectives and adverbs. The remainder are function words, those that, very broadly, establish relationships between the lexical words. The main ones are determiners, auxiliary verbs, pronouns, adverbial particles, subordinators and coordinators.
First, the determiners. Like other function words, they do not lend themselves to the same morphological, syntactic and semantic classification as lexical words. To quote the ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’:
. . . determiners are function words used to specify the kind of reference a noun has.
For David Crystal in the ‘Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language’, a determiner is:
. . . an item that co-occurs with a noun to express such meanings as number or quantity.
They also express possession, where something is, and, in the case of the articles, whether something is definite or indefinite, that is to say, whether we know which item is being referred to. They are placed before nouns, and more than one may be used at a time, as in all those books.
Determiners are short, and relatively few in number, so few, in fact, that we can list almost all of them. They include:
- the definite and indefinite articles, the, a,an
- this, that and their plurals these, those
- determiners that indicate possession or attribution: my, your, his, her, its, our, their
- those that indicate quantity: every, each, all, many, some, few, enough, several, both, any, no, half, twice, double
- those that indicate number: one, two, three and so on
The definite and indefinite articles require particular attention by foreign learners whose native languages do not have them. The choice between them depends on a number of variables, including whether the noun is singular or plural, countable or non-countable, mentioned for the first time, and describes something known to both speaker (or writer) and listener (or reader).