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The Determinative in English Grammar

Determinatives are words and phrases that express additional information such as definiteness, proximity, quantity, and relationships about a noun phrase or verb phrase in the form of a present participle. Both determiners and noun phrases perform the grammatical function of determinative. Determiners include articles, demonstratives, interrogatives, possessives, quantifiers, and numerals. Only possessive nouns, possessive noun phrases, and some possessive pronouns may function as determinatives. The seven grammatical forms that can function as the determinative are:

  1. Articles
  2. Demonstrative determiners
  3. Interrogative determiners
  4. Possessive determiners
  5. Quantifiers
  6. Numerals
  7. Noun phrases

Articles as Determinatives

The first grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of determinative is the article. The definite article in English is the. The indefinite articles in English are a and an. For example, the following italicized determiners function as determinatives:

  • The child devoured the banana.
  • An apple is a healthy snack.
  • The two birds built a nest.

Demonstrative Determiners as Determinatives

The second grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of determinative is the demonstrative determiner. The demonstrative determiners in English are this, that, these, and those. For example, the following italicized demonstrative determiners function as determinatives:

  • This puppy belongs to that family.
  • These very naughty children need to wash those dishes.
  • My boyfriend will return this basketball to those teenaged boys.

Interrogative Determiners as Determinatives

The third grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of determinative is the interrogative determiner. The interrogative determiners in English are what and which. For example, the following italicized interrogative determiners function as determinatives:

  • What book are you reading?
  • Which coat belongs to which child?
  • You want me to wash which blanket?

Interrogative determiners are most often used in interrogative sentences.

Possessive Determiners as Determinatives

The fourth grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of determinative is the possessive determiner. The possessive determiners in English are my, your, his, her, its, our, their, and whose. For example, the following italicized possessive determiners function as determinatives:

  • My house is your house.
  • My reading the book pleases my teacher.
  • Whose son destroyed whose car?

The possessive determiner whose is an interrogative possessive determiner.

Quantifiers as Determinatives

The fifth grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of determinative is the quantifier. Quantifiers in English are words that provide information about quantity such as all, each, every, some, and few. Multipliers such as twice, double, and second and fractions such as one-third and half are also quantifiers. Many quantifiers can also contain the preposition of as in all of and some of. For example, the following italicized quantifiers function as determinatives:

  • Each child must eat all of his or her vegetables.
  • Some teenagers whine twice the amount as many toddlers.
  • None of the students have read any of the books.

Numerals as Determinatives

The sixth grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of determinative is the numeral. Numerals in English are the numbers used for counting such as one, two, three, and four. For example, the following italicized numerals function as determinatives:

  • One animal broke three flowerpots.
  • Those two children ate six cookies.
  • The twelve apostles followed one leader.

Noun Phrases as Determinatives

The seven grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of determinative is the noun phrase. Only possessive noun phrases including possessive nouns and some possessive pronouns can function as determinatives. Possessive nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases are formed by the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase plus the possessive clitic (apostrophe s or s apostrophe). For example, the following italicized noun phrases function as determinatives:

  • The dog’s bowl is by the cats’ toys.
  • Do you enjoy children’s literature?
  • You crashed into the Queen of England’s carriage?!
  • I hate my mother-in-law’s taste in fashion.
  • Anybody’s guess will do.
  • My brother broke somebody’s leg.

Possessive pronouns do not function as determinatives. Possessive determiners, although similar to personal pronouns, are determiners, not pronouns.

The seven grammatical forms that can function as determinatives in the English language are articles, demonstrative determiners, interrogative determiners, possessive determiners, quantifiers, numerals, and noun phrases.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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