Difference Between Articles and Determiners

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Articles and Determiners

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Not everyone is born with the skill to speak or write. The pressure in school got to a lot of students hoping to hone their skill of language. To master such a skill requires endless patience and a strong will. A single try would not make one a master overnight. It needs rigorous practice and dedication. How many times have you stuttered in front of a massive audience, sure of your failure? If you haven’t, well, you’re one of the lucky ones. Even trying hard and practising forever can at times be insufficient to make a significant impact. Especially if your words are ill-arranged or there’s a grammar Nazi on the prowl or worse, both.

The English language is a complex one. It is full of essential terms and tactics that constitute to make the language more beautiful and understandable. Some of the terms might seem illogical or unnecessary but their existence is of utmost importance. We learn from the basics – the parts of speech – and progress toward harder concepts like – phrases, affixes, clauses, voices etc. Articles and determiners are part of these grammatical terms that wreak quite the havoc.

Articles vs Determiners

Articles and determiners are very similar in their function. They are both used before nouns and provide information about “which” and “how many/ much”. An article is used to describe a specific (definite) or an unspecific (indefinite) noun. A determiner, on the other hand, is used to determine the quantity of the noun that it is placed before. Let us see how these terms further differ from one another.

Differences Between Articles and Determiners in Tabular Form

Parameters of Comparison Articles Determiners
Definition Articles are words that define a noun as specific or unspecific. Determiners are words that are placed before nouns to either specify the quantity or to clarify what the noun refers to.
Etymology The word ‘article’ in the grammatical sense originated in the 1530s from the Latin, “articulus”, which translates to a joint. The word ‘determiner’ was first used by Leonard Bloomfield in his article in 1933, which defines the syntactic function of limiting adjectives.
Types There are two types of articles in the English language. They are definite and indefinite articles. There are six types of determiners in the English language. They are articles, ordinals, numbers, demonstratives, possessives and quantifiers.
Words Articles used in the English language are “the” (definite article), “a” and “an” (indefinite articles). Commonly used determiners in the English language are a, the, one, some, this, which etc.
  • An example using the definite article “the” is as follows: “The mail arrived today.”
  • An example using the indefinite article “a” is as follows: “a cup of coffee.”
  • An example using the indefinite article “an” is as follows: “an interesting conversation.”
  • An example using a determiner “all” is as follows: “She took all her books.”
  • An example using the determiner “this” is as follows: “My dog loved this toy.”
  • An example using the determiner “previous” is as follows: “I missed the previous engagement.”

What are Articles?

Articles are the words used to describe a noun as specific or unspecific. As a part of grammar, articles originated in the 1530s. the word ‘article’ is derived from the Latin ‘articulus’, which translates to a joint. It gives a sense of a word that is used attributively to limit the application of the noun to an individual or a set of individuals.

To describe a noun as specific, the article “the” is used.

For example:

After the long work shift, the cup of coffee tastes especially good.

Here, “the” specifies that that specific work shift was long and the specific cup of coffee tasted good.

To describe a noun as unspecific or general, the articles ‘a’ or ‘an’ are used.

For example:

After a long work shift, a cup of coffee tastes especially good.

Here, “a” is used to create a general statement that conveys that any cup of coffee tastes good after any long work shift.

As already mentioned before, there are two types of articles in the English language – definite (specific) and indefinite (unspecific).

The definite article is the word “the”. It is used to limit the meaning of the noun to a particular thing. For example, a colleague might ask a person – “Are you going to the convention this weekend?”. This signifies that there is a particular convention that both the people involved in the conversation know about. The definite article is used before a singular noun, a plural noun or an uncountable noun.

Examples of using the definite article:

  • Please give me the belt.
  • Please give me the belt and the pants.

The indefinite articles are “a” and “an”. The word “a” is used before a word that begins with a consonant, while the word “an” is used before a word that begins with a vowel. The use of an indefinite article signifies that the noun is general or unspecific. For example, a colleague might ask a person – “Should I bring a book to the convention?”. Here, the person would understand that the colleague does not refer to any particular book. Another example, the colleague could say – “I will bring an apple for the break”. Here, as well, the colleague is not referring to a particular apple. They probably do not even have any apples yet. Indefinite articles are only used before singular nouns.

Example of using the indefinite articles:

  • Please give me an envelope; any size will do.
  • Please give me a pencil; any brand will do.

What are Determiners?

Determiners are words in the English language that are used before nouns to describe the noun – it provides information about the quantity of the noun. It is also used to clarify the noun that it is referred to. Determiners were first mentioned in an article by Leonard Bloomfield in 1933, where the term was used to define the syntactic function of limiting adjectives.

Examples for determiners are as follows:

  • The boy went to school (“The” is the determiner)
  • Do you want this vanilla cupcake? (“This” is the determiner)

There are six types of determiners. They are as follows:

Articles: Articles can be used as determiners as they are used to describe the noun they are placed before.

For example:

  • The girl is singing. (“The” is the determiner)
  • A dog is eating his bone. (“A” is the determiner)
  • She needs to eat an egg. (“An” is the determiner)

Demonstratives: Demonstrative pronouns are also used as determiners. There are four demonstrative pronouns. They are – this, that, these and those. These pronouns are more specific than articles and can be used in instances where the speaker can point to the noun they are speaking of.

For example:

  • Do you like this dress? (“This” is the determiner)
  • He wants those shoes. (“Those” is the determiner)
  • She likes that book. (“That” is the determiner)
  • I don’t want these mushrooms. (“These” is the determiner)

Possessives: Possessive pronouns can be used as determiners when they are referring to a noun that belongs to someone or something. Possessive pronouns are as follows – my, hers, his, its, their and our.

For example:

  • Where is her bicycle? (“Her” is the determiner)
  • He has his book. (“His” is the determiner)
  • My best friend is my dog. (“My” is the determiner)
  • Which one is your house? (“Your” is the determiner)
  • The cat sheds its fur. (“Its” is the determiner)
  • India is our country. (“Our” is the determiner)
  • Their trees are red. (“Their” is the determiner)

Quantifiers: Determiners can be used before nouns to indicate how much or how little the noun is being discussed. Commonly used quantifiers are – all, few, many etc.

For example:

  • She ate all the cookies. (“All” is the determiner. It is used along with “The” to specify which particular items are meant.)
  • Few birds fly in this direction. (“Few” is the determiner)
  • Many children like to play on the slides. (“Many” is the determiner)

Numerals: Numerals can appear as determiners before a noun to quantify it.

For example:

  • She owns two boxes. (“Two” is the determiner)
  • He has thirty chocolates (“Thirty” is the determiner)

Ordinals: Like numerals, ordinals can also be used to quantify a noun.

For example:

  • He won the third prize. (“Third” is the determiner)
  • I want to go out next week. (“Next” is the determiner)

Main Differences Between Articles vs Determiners In Points

Following are the main differences between articles and determiners:

  1. An article is defined as a word that is used before a noun and defines the noun as specific or unspecific, whereas a determiner is a word that is used before a noun to either refer to it or quantify it.
  2. An article originated much earlier in the 1530s and was derived from the Latin term – articulus – which means a joint. A determiner was introduced by Leonard Bloomfield in 1993, in his article as a word that defines the syntactic function of limiting adjectives.
  3. An article is mainly of two types – definite and indefinite, while a determiner is of six types – articles, ordinals, numerals, demonstratives, possessives and quantifiers.
  4. An article has the following words – a, an and the. There are many words used as determiners. Some of the commonest ones are as follows – this, all, some, a, these etc.
  5. An example of the use of an article ‘a’ is as follows: “a book”. An example of the use of the determiner ‘some’ is as follows: “some people”.
  6. Articles only comprise the following three words – a, an and the, while determiners can have a plethora of words since they include numerals, demonstratives and other types.
  7. All articles can be used as determiners, but it is not possible the other way around.
  8. Articles are a sub-category of the determiners.


Articles and determiners are, thus, essential for normal daily conversation. Almost every sentence we speak has articles and determiners. Articles are defined as the words used to describe the noun as specific or unspecific. They form a sub-category of determiners. They are mainly of two types – definite and indefinite. The definite article we use is “The” and it is used before singular, plural and uncountable nouns. The indefinite articles we use are “a” and “an”. These are used typically before singular nouns. “A” is most often used before a noun that begins with a consonant, while “an” is most often used before a noun that begins with a vowel. Therefore, articles comprise of the following three words – the, a and an.

Determiners include more than just those three words. They are of six types. Determiners are defined as the words used to either refer to a noun or quantify a noun. The six types of determiners are articles (the, a and an), numerals (one, two, thirty etc.), ordinals (first, last, next etc.), demonstratives (this, these etc.), possessives (my, hers, ours etc.) and quantifiers (all, few, some etc.). These words also function as words that describe the noun. Both determiners and articles can also be used before an adjective that describes the noun, for example – a red sock (“a” as the article), this beautiful ring (“this” as the determiner). It is imperative to know the uses and differences between these grammatical terms to sound informative and knowledgeable, especially when you have to give a speech. Imagine standing before your audience and delivering the prologue to your play and making a silly mistake with an article. The echoing laughter will haunt your dreams. Why the size of the audience doesn’t truly matter. Imagine delivering a heartfelt rant about all your hardships and turmoil. You can’t have the listener laugh at your deep expression of angst and sorrow. Knowing the right words for the right nouns makes the dialogue or the interaction better understandable and clear. It will also make you come across as intelligent and well-versed in the English language. That certainly has its benefits, be it amongst friends or in the professional set-up. It adds to your dignity.


  1. https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=article
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_determiners
  3. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/determin/numerals.htm
  4. https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/nouns/what/what-is-a-determiner.html
  5. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/articles/
  6. https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/1684227/Grammar-_articles_and_determiners.pdf
  7. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/determiners-the-my-some-this


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"Difference Between Articles and Determiners." Diffzy.com, 2023. Sat. 03 Jun. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-articles-and-determiners-367>.

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