Articles, determiners, and qualifiers

by Lisa Geren, Writing Center Tutor


Determiners are words that come before the nouns they modify and tell us something about the noun. When you see an article or determiner, you know that a noun or a noun phrase follows. The table below shows you what type of determiner you would use for specific types of nouns.

Four of the more frequently used groups of determiners are:
1. Articles (a, an, the,)
2. Possessives (my, our, your, their, her, his, its, Bucky’s)          
3. Demonstratives (this, that, these, those) ArticlesA/An (indefinite articles) are used to classify nouns nonspecifically as a group.

A
can only be used with singular countable nouns that begin with a consonant: a dog, a person, a concept.

An
can only be used with singular countable nouns that begin with vowel sounds: an idea, an eagle, an order. The (definite article is used to identify a specific noun or one that does not need a description

The
can be used with both singular and plural count nouns:
the pen, the planet, the thought, the number
the cats, the trees, the rubies, the women

The
can be used with singular noncount nouns:
the air, the wine, the cement, the furniture

Noncountable Nouns


A
and an cannot be used with noncount nounsHowever, noncount nouns that represent a collection or a mass may be preceded by a phrase that indicates quantity, or quantifier, such as a lot of, a little, some, much, any. (see chart above).

Example: I asked the reference librarian for some information.

Know the different categories of noncount nouns.                                                                                                        
Category                                   Example

Abstractions

advice, courage, enjoyment, fun, help, honesty, information, intelligence, knowledge, patience

Activities

chess, homework, housework, music, reading, singing, sleeping, soccer, tennis, work

Food

beef, bread, butter, fish, macaroni, meat, popcorn, pork, poultry, toast

Gases

air, exhaust, helium, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, pollution, smog, smoke, steam

Groups of similar items

baggage, clothing, furniture, hardware, luggage, equipment, mail, money, software

Liquids

blood, coffee, gasoline, milk, oil, soup, syrup, tea, water, wine 

Natural events

electricity, gravity, heat, humidity, moonlight, rain, snow, sunshine, thunder, weather

  • Hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, earthquakes are countable.

Materials

aluminum, asphalt, chalk, cloth, concrete, cotton, glue, lumber, wood, wool, etc.

Particles of grains

corn, dirt, dust, flour, hair, pepper, rice, salt, sugar, wheat

Time

  • Time can sometimes be countable and other times not.

For example:

Time dragged on as Steven took his final exams. (noncountable)

It seemed he reworked the same problem at least 20 times. (countable).                   

Some noncountable nouns can be made into countable nouns by adding prepositional phrases or adjectives

Noncountable Version              Countable version

Advice

Pieces of advice

Homework

Homework assignments

Bread

Loaves of bread, pieces of bread, slices of bread

Smoke

Puffs of smoke

Software

Software applications

Wine

Bottles of wine, glass of wine

Milk

Carton of milk, glass of milk

Coffee

Cup of coffee, pot of coffee

Snow/Rain

Snowstorms, raindrops

Cloth/fabric

Piece of cloth, bolts of cloth, yards of cloth

Dirt

Piles of dirt, mounds of dirt

 

Collective Nouns

 

army

firm

Use correct verbs and pronouns with collective nouns.

Each noun from the list above is a single thing. That thing, however, is made up of more than one person. You cannot have a committee, team, or family of one; you need at least two people who compose the unit, who do things together, in unison.
When these people are part of a collective noun, that noun becomes singular and requires singular verbs and pronouns.
The student council elects its new president in two weeks.
Council = singular; elects = a singular verb; its = a singular pronoun. All members of the council as a group will elect the president.

audience

group

board

jury

cabinet

majority

class

minority

committee

navy

any

people

corporation

public

council

school

department

senate

faculty

society

family

team


Demonstratives

As determiners , demonstratives adjectively modifies the noun that follows. A demonstrative pronoun identifies and specifies a noun or pronoun. This and these refer to nouns that are nearby in time or space. That or those refer to nouns that are further away in time or space. This and that refer to singular nouns; these and those refer to plural nouns. The four demonstrative pronouns are this, that, these, those.

As the subject of the sentence:


These [books on my bookshelf] are all for classes this semester.
Those [books on overthere] are from last semester.
This [book in my hand] is what I am reading today.
That [book sitting on the table] I already read.

As the object of the sentence


Look at this ugly sofa.
I don’t want to look at that anymore.
Take these books to the library.
Take those book in the corner and put them away.


Quantifiers

Quantifiers are words that are used to state quantity or amount of something without stating the actually number.
Quantifiers answer the questions "How many?" and "How much?"
Quantifiers can be used with plural countable nouns and uncountable nouns.
Quantifiers must agree with the noun.

There are 3 main types of quantifiers:

Quantifiers that are used with countable nouns, quantifiers that are used with uncountable nouns. and
quantifiers that are used with either countable nouns or uncountable nouns.

Noncount Nouns
No S on the noun

Singular COUNT NOUN
No S on the noun

PLURAL COUNT NOUN
+S on noun (or irregular)

the

the

the

 

a/an

 

this/that

this/that

these/those

the other

the other

the other

 

another

other

any other

any other

any other

any

any

any

no

no

no

some

 

Some

little

 

few

a little

 

a few

much

 

many

a lot of

 

a lot of

a great deal of

 

several

most

 

most

most of the

 

most of the

all

 

all

 

each

 

 

every

 

 

 

a couple of

 

 

both

 

one

two, twenty. fifty

 

 

a variety of

 

 

various


In formal academic writing, it is usually better to use many and much rather than phrases such as a lot of, lots of and plenty of.

There is an important difference between "a little" and "little" (used with non-count words) and between "a few" and "few" (used with count words). If I say I have a little money to donate to the charity, I am saying I enough to contribute without going broke. But if I say, I have little money to donate to the charity, I am saying, I don’t have enough to give at this time. If I say to my writing student that she has a few mistakes, I am saying that she specifically has mistakes that need to be fixed. But if I say, she has few mistakes, it means that she did not make a significant amount of mistakes.

Possessives

Certain pronouns called possessive pronouns show ownership. Some are used alone; some describe a noun.

Used alone:
mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs, whose
Whose computer is sitting on the desk?
Shelley says, “That is my computer.”
I said, “No it isn’t, it’s mine.

Possessive Pronouns with Gerunds

A common mistake is to use the objective pronoun (you, him, her, me) with gerunds (nouns ending in {-ing}, which causes the statement to be ambiguous.  Because of possible confusion, use possessive pronouns with gerunds. For example:
You singing at the concert today was amazing. (incorrect) Whose singing was amazing?

Differences between Progressive Pronouns and Contractions

It’s, you’re and who’s all contain apostrophes.
These three words are contractions.
Contractions join two words:
It is or it has:
It’s a purple book.
It’s been a read hard day.
You are:
You’re going to break that glass.
Who is
Who’s going to the club tonight?
Who’s been sleeping in my class?

Its, your, and whose do NOT contain apostrophes.
These three words are possessive pronouns.
Its
The book has its title page in the front.
Your
Your books are on the floor.
Whose
Whose book is on the floor?