Determining determiners

Determiners may seem simple, but they’re one of the most common errors picked up by Outwrite. We take a look at how to use them properly every time.

Determining determiners

Welcome back to another Outwrite blog. Unlike last month, this edition will actually be about grammar and how to use it so your writing is clear and correct. This time around, we’re looking at determiners. These are the words that you use before a noun to clarify to your reader exactly what you are referring to.

Determiners may seem simple, but there are a lot of rules that surround the use of them. They’re one of the most common errors picked up by Outwrite. Below, we’ll take a look at the different types of determiners and how to use them properly every time.

Type Examples
Definite article the
Indefinite article a, an
Possessives her, his, you, your, our, its, their
Quantifiers few, fewer, much, most, some, any, many, little, all
Proximal demonstratives these, this
Distal demonstratives that, those
Interogative determiners whose, which, what


Articles are the most basic determiners and usually the easiest to master. There are two variations of them: definite and indefinite. In the English language, only one word has the honour of being a definite article: “the”. You can use the definite article when you’re referring to something specific that your audience is aware of. Let’s think about an example. Imagine you and your partner have one dog, and that dog needs feeding. You might say to your partner;

“Can you please feed the dog?”

Because your partner will know which dog you’re referring to, you can use the definite article. If you owned an animal shelter, things might be a little more difficult. Now, if you were using a general noun instead of a specific one, you would put an indefinite article in front of it. The indefinite articles are “a” and “an”. Which one you use depends on the first sound of the following word; if it’s a consonant sound, you would use “a”, and a vowel sound would require “an”. Ok, let’s say someone in your office asked if you were free. You might respond;

“I’ve just got to send an email, then I will be.”

The person you’re talking to doesn’t know the exact email you’re referring to, and you’re likely sending tens of them every day (or maybe you’re lying because you don’t want to talk to them); it is a general noun and requires an indefinite article. And, because it starts with a vowel sound, you would use “an”.


Possessives are the type of determiner that you use when you’re referring to a noun that is owned by someone. Possessive words are “his”, “her”, “you”, “your”, “our”, “its”, and “their”. Obviously, because there are so many, they’re context dependent. To demonstrate possessives, let’s go back to our earlier example. Maybe your partner doesn’t want to feed the dog. They might reply;

“Why should I? It’s your dog.”

The dog is in the direct possession of the person being addressed, so in this case, “your” is the correct determiner. As always, it comes before the noun.

Quantifiers and numbers

Quantifiers are determiners that offer approximate information about the amount of something. The quantifiers are “few”, “fewer”, “much”, “most”, “some”, “any”, “many”, and “little”. The one quantifier that can be used to offer more specific information is “all”. There are a lot of quantifiers. Let’s think about how can use them. Perhaps someone asks you how many coffees you’ve had today. Well, that might not be information you’re particularly keen on divulging. So, maybe you respond;

“I’ve had a few coffees.”

If you did want to give someone more specific information, you could replace the quantifiers above with numbers. For example;

“I’ve had six coffees today.”



Demonstratives are context-dependent determiners that refer to something which can be specified by the speaker or writer. They are separated into two categories, proximal and distal. The proximal demonstratives are “these” and “this” and are used when you’re talking about something that is close by or of immediate concern. Let’s imagine you’re a heavy coffee drinker again. If someone asked you to help them with a task, you could say

“Let me finish this cup of coffee first.”

The proximal demonstrative is appropriate here because the speaker is referring to an object (the cup of coffee) that is physically close to them. You might also use it when discussing something that would be immediately apparent to the audience. For example, if someone Cc’d you in an irrelevant email, you could passively-aggressively reply;

“Why have you Cc’d me in this email?”

Problem solved. Now, the distal demonstratives. They are “that” and “those”. They’re used when the noun being referred to is a long way away or not immediately accessible. For example, if you were discussing a document you did not have, you might ask;

“Can you send that document to me?”

Until you’re in possession of the file, it is not proximal to you. Thus, you need to use the distal demonstrative.

Interrogative determiners

While not considered one of the four “main” types of determiners, interrogatives are an important variation that are often misused. The interrogatives are “whose”, “which”, and “what”. They’re used when you’re asking a question about a noun. It can be tricky to know which one is appropriate for the question you are asking. “Whose” is probably the easiest to master. It’s correct when you’re asking a question about something in the possession of someone else, and you want to clarify who that someone is.

E.g.“Whose laptop is this?”

Simple. “Which” and “what” are not quite so straightforward and some people use them interchangeably (and incorrectly). “Which” is right when you’re asking a question about things from a specific group. If you worked at an ice-cream shop, you might ask a customer

Which flavour would you like?”

There are a finite number of choices in front of you, so you can ask a direct question using “which”. “What” is appropriate when you’re asking a more general question. You could use it for a question like

What is your favourite sport?”

Since you haven’t specified a group of sports for the respondent to choose from, the more general interrogative is correct here.

Well, that’s about all we’ve got time for this month. As always, if you’re unsure of whether you’ve used the right determiners, make sure you put your work into Outwrite to avoid any mistakes.