Determiners are words which specify a noun – that is, they point out whether the noun is already known in the sentence.
For example, the dog is known to the readers, a dog is being introduced for the first time. They can pick out a particular thing: this window, that train, those flowers. They can say how much of the noun there is: five potatoes, a lot of rubbish, some milk. They can also say who the noun belongs to: his pencil, my book, everyone’s playtime. The determiners are giving us a specific idea about the noun.
The most common determiners are the, a, and an. You can usually use these to check whether the word you think is a noun is actually one. Put a determiner in front of the word, and see if it makes sense!
In our previous example from the nouns class, if we put a determiner before water… I asked my neighbour if she could (the) water my tomatoes – the determiner clearly doesn’t work, so water is not behaving as a noun.
But My neighbour put plenty of (the) water on my tomatoes… works fine! Water is working as a noun.
For some nouns, especially abstract ones like courage, faith and happiness, you may need to try a different determiner, such as some or a lot of... For example, imagine you were asked to pick out all the nouns in the following sentences:
It took courage to cross the fast-flowing river.
The children had faith in their teachers.
Susan was filled with happiness when she saw her baby brother.
You would easily spot children, teachers, brother and river just by putting the in front. Susan is someone’s name – a proper noun. But to be sure about the other three nouns, try plenty of courage, some faith, a lot of happiness.
Just a couple more words about determiners...
The three most common determiners are also called articles - the, a, and an. There are just three articles, and they specify whether the noun in the writing is known to the reader already (for example, the) or is being introduced for the first time (for example a, or an.)
A small bird flew into my garden this morning. I watched as it fed at the bird table for a while. Later on, the bird had disappeared.
Written by Mim Barnes for propeller.education