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Adjectives vs Determiners
The Difference between Adjectives and DeterminersFor centuries, the term "adjective" has been used for a word type now called a determiner.
For example, the words "his," "this," "many" are classified as possessive adjective, demonstrative adjective, and indefinite adjective respectively. However, in contemporary grammar, these are called determiners, specifically possessive determiner, demonstrative determiner, and indefinite determiner. A descriptive adjective will usually fit into one of the following categories:
- Appearance. attractive, burly, clean, dusty
- Colour. azure, blue, cyan, dark
- Condition. absent, broken, careful, dead
- Personality. annoying, brave, complex, dizzy
- Quantity. ample, bountiful, countless, deficient
- Sense. aromatic, bitter, cold, deafening
- Size and Shape. angular, broad, circular, deep
- Time. ancient, brief, concurrent, daily
- Possession. my dog, their opinions
- Specificity. that dog, these opinions
- Quantity. one dog, many opinions
- Definiteness. a dog, the opinions
The Four Main Differences between Adjectives and DeterminersHere are the four main differences between determiners and normal adjectives:
(Difference 1) A determiner cannot have a comparative form.
- Descriptive adjective: pretty > prettier ("Prettier" is the comparative form of "pretty.")
- Determiner: that > [nothing fits here] (There is no comparative form.)
- Descriptive adjectives removed: The
youngboy stole a silverwatch.
(This is grammatically sound with the normal adjectives removed.)
TheYoung boy stole asilver watch.
(The sentence is flawed with the determiners removed.)
- Determiner: Release those prisoners immediately. (The determiner "those" refers back to something previously mentioned. In other words, it has an antecedent (the thing it refers to). Descriptive adjectives do not have an antecedent.)
- Descriptive adjective: She is intelligent. (The descriptive adjective "intelligent" can be used after a linking verb (here, "is") and function as a subject complement.)
- Determiner: She is [nothing fits here]. (You can't use a determiner as a subject complement. NB: If you think you've found a determiner that fits, then you've found a pronoun not a determiner.)
Six Types of DeterminerHere is a brief description for each of the six types of determiner:
(1) Possessive DeterminersThe possessive determiners (called "possessive adjectives" in traditional grammar) are "my," "your," "his," "her," "its," "our," "their," and "whose." A possessive determiner sits before a noun (or a pronoun) to show who (or what) owns it.
- When a man opens a car door for his wife, it's either a new car or a new wife. (Prince Philip)
- The only time a wife listens to her husband is when he's asleep. (Cartoonist Chuck Jones)
(2) Demonstrative DeterminersThe demonstrative determiners (called "demonstrative adjectives" in traditional grammar) are "this," "that," "these," and "those." A demonstrative determiner makes a noun (or a pronoun) more specific by relating it to something previously mentioned or something being demonstrated.
- That man's silence is wonderful to listen to. (Novelist Thomas Hardy)
- Maybe this world is another planet's hell. (Writer Aldous Huxley)
(3) ArticlesThe articles are the words "a," "an," and "the." They are used to define whether something is specific or unspecific.
- The poets are only the interpreters of the gods. (Philosopher Socrates)
- I'm an optimist – but an optimist who carries a raincoat. (Prime Minister Harold Wilson)
(4) Numbers (or Cardinal Numbers)The cardinal numbers are "one," "two," "three," etc. (as opposed by "first," "second," "third," etc., which are known as ordinal numbers). Cardinal numbers are used to specify quantity. They are part of the group of determiners known as "quantifiers."
- If two wrongs don't make a right, try three wrongs. (Canadian educator Laurence Peter)
- One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives. (Greek Tragedian Euripides)
(5) Indefinite DeterminersThe most common indefinite determiners (called "indefinite adjectives" in traditional grammar) are "no," "any," "many," "few," "several," and "some." Indefinite determiners modify nouns in a non-specific way usually relating to quantity. Like numbers, they are part of the group of determiners known as "quantifiers."
- If you live to be one hundred, you've got it made. Very few people die past that age. (Comedian George Burns)
- If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee. (US President Abraham Lincoln)
(6) Interrogative DeterminersThe most common interrogative determiners (called "interrogative adjectives" in traditional grammar) are "which," "what," and "whose." They are used to ask questions.
- If you decide that you're indecisive, which one are you?
- What hair colour do they put on bald person's driving licence?
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