Determinative (part of speech)

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As a determinative (also determinant (n., Pl. Determinants), determiner , determinator , determinant (pl. Determinants), determinant (f., Pl. Determinants), determinative (n., Pl. Determinative) or article word (pl. - words) called) in more recent linguistics (e.g. in generative transformation grammar ) a word is used that accompanies nouns or other nouns ( e.g. substantiated adjectives ). The job of a determinative is to narrow down the individuals to which the accompanying noun refers. This phenomenon is called determination .

Concept history

In French, determinatives are called déterminant ( m. , Pl. Déterminants ) and in English as determiner (Pl. Determiners ) or (more rarely) as determinative (Pl. Determinatives ) .

The English word determiner , which goes back to the Latin determinare “ to determine”, originated in the 16th century and generally means “a person or thing that determines something”. The linguistic meaning of determiner was first coined by Leonard Bloomfield in 1933 .


In German , a noun is usually accompanied by a determinative. For example, the following sentence is ungrammatical without a determinative in front of the noun (here: kangaroo ) (and is therefore marked with an asterisk *):

*„Dort drüben steht _ Känguru.“

The determinative does not always open marked the noun genus visible and serves accordingly as Flexionsmarkierung in the noun phrase (in this case the kangaroo ).

As a rule, only one determinative can appear in a noun phrase :

*„Das dieses Känguru bewegt sich frei durch die Stadt.“

Types of determiners

Determinators are used to set a noun ( kangaroo serve as an example ) in relation to the class of its referent . This class contains all possible linguistic objects to which the word kangaroo can refer (for example all kangaroos on planet earth, all kangaroos in texts or images, etc.).

There are three subclasses of determiners:


Determinatives are primarily understood to mean the article , which appears in two paradigmatic categories:

  • the indefinite article to refer to an indefinite instance of a class:
„Hast du schon mal ein Känguru gesehen?“

A special form of the indefinite article is the null article as a companion to nouns that denote something uncountable:

„Hast du schon mal Känguru gegessen?“
  • the specific (also definitely named) article for reference to an already known, mentioned, clearly identified or clearly identifiable ( the, the, the ) example of a class:
„Hast du das Känguru gesehen?“

The specific article also creates a generic reference, i.e. a reference to all instances of a class:

„Das Känguru ist ein Symbol für Australien.“

Secondary determinatives

The determinatives listed here are often called adjectival pronouns in school grammars and are viewed as pronouns .


Further determiners are the demonstrative pronouns that refer to a speaker in the context:

  • the proximal demonstration this- for closeness :
„Hast du dieses Känguru schon mal gesehen?“
  • the distal demonstrative (mainly used in high-level and written language) j- for distance :
„Erinnerst du dich an jenes Känguru aus dem Zoo, das immer boxen will?“

Question determinatives

These determinatives are only used in questions. This subheading includes:

  • the determinative which - to inquire about identity:
„Welches Känguru meinst du?“
  • the determinative of what kind of questioning the quality (and partly also the identity):
„Was für ein Känguru meinst du?“
„Was für ein Känguru hätte Ihre Tochter denn gerne?“
  • the determinative how much and its plural form how many to inquire about quantity (in the singular) and number (in the plural):
„Wie viel Känguru braucht man denn ungefähr für vier Personen?“
„Wie viele Kängurus leben in diesem Tierheim?“
  • the determinative of whose to inquire about membership:
„Wessen Känguru mag das wohl gewesen sein?“


Possessive determinatives are used to indicate affiliation:

„Mein Känguru ist viel klüger als Ihr Delphin.“

For everything else, see the article on possessives .

Quantitative determinatives

This subheading includes determinatives relating to the contextual number of members of a class. This subheading includes:

  • the determinative none- for the number zero:
„Hier ist kein Känguru vorbeigesprungen.“
  • the determinative every- for the set of all members of a class with its plural form all :
„Jedes Känguru ist für sich selbst verantwortlich.“
„Alle Kängurus sind Beuteltiere.“
  • the determinative all- for the total amount of a substance (e.g. meat):
„Wir haben alles Känguru aufgegessen.“
  • the determinative some- , some- and several , of which only the first two have a singular form (for uncountable nouns):
„Ich habe schon etliche/einige/mehrere Kängurus selbst erlegt.“
„Dazu braucht es einigen/etlichen/*mehreren Mut.“

Differentiation from other quantifiers

The quantifiers much and little behave partly like determiners, partly like adjectives. Their grammatical status is therefore controversial.

On the one hand, they can be used like determiners, i.e. instead of the article:

„Da sind aber viele Kängurus auf der Straße, und nur wenige Autos.“
„Das ist vielleicht wenig Känguru, aber ich habe dafür viel Geld ausgegeben.“

However, they can also be coordinated with "real" determiners in a noun phrase , and then also inflect like adjectives:

„Siehst du die vielen Kängurus auf der Straße?“
„Das viele Känguru – wer soll das nur essen!“

The quantifiers many 'many' and few 'few' behave similarly in English :

There are many kangaroos on the road, but only few cars.

They can also be coordinated, for example, with the specific article the in a noun phrase:

The many kangaroos / The few cars on this road make me freak out.

The situation is different with the singular form much 'much' and little 'little', which cannot be coordinated with articles:

This is little kangaroo (meat), but I have spent much money for it.

Although little as adjective commonly used, but not in the meaning 'little' but 'small'.

Inflection of determinatives

Determinatives do not have a uniform inflection pattern, but can be divided into three different inflection classes:

  • Type I is indeclinable; only a few determinants belong here, for example the quantifier something .
  • Type II inflections similar to strong adjective forms. Examples include DIES , some- , solch- , Welch and the definite article der / die / the .
  • Type III inflects like Type II, but with an endless nominative singular of the masculine. Examples are one , none and the possessives ( mine , yours, etc.). Also some , such, and which occasionally inflect after this type.

A determinative always congruates in its gender , case and number inflection with the noun that accompanies it.

Interplay with the form of the adjective

In German, determinatives influence the inflected form of the adjective ; this phenomenon is also called strength flexion of the adjective.

There are three types:


  • J. van Eijck: Determiners . In: RE Asher et al. (Ed.): Encyclopedia of language and linguistics 2, 1994. pp. 877-881.
  • Gerhard Helbig, Joachim Buscha: German grammar. A handbook for the foreigners' course. Langenscheidt, Berlin and Munich 2001.
  • Igor Trost: The German adjective . Buske, Hamburg 2006.
  • Arnold Zwicky: German adjective agreement . In: Linguistics 24/5, 1986. pp. 957-990.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Duden: The grammar: Indispensable for correct German. 8th edition, 2009, p. 250. Quotation: “The usage […] was covered with different expressions; »déterminant« is relatively common in French and »determiner« in English. "
  2. To determinative for example:
  3. ^ determiner
  4. Karl Ernst Georges (1806–1895): Comprehensive Latin-German concise dictionary. Keyword determino ( at )
  5. Elke Hentschel (Ed.): Deutsche Grammatik. Walter de Gruyter, 2010, p. 69.
    Quote: “Determinator; Determiner (also:. Determinative; engl determiner ., Of lat determinare 'determined).
    The translation for Engl. determiner adopted term 'determiner' (sometimes also: determiner, determinative ) [...] "
  6. ^ David Dension: Category Change and Gradience in the Determiner System. In: The Handbook of The History of English. Edited by Ans van Kemenade and Bettelou Los, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, p. 282. Quotation: “ Where does D = Determiner come from? According to OED (the Oxford English Dictionary ) the term is Bloomfield's (1933), but article as a category is much older. "
  7. ^ Peter Eisenberg : Outline of the German grammar. Vol. 2: The sentence. 4th edition, Metzler, Stuttgart 2013, p. 150.
  8. Roland Schäfer: Introduction to the grammatical description of German. 2nd Edition. Language Science Press, Berlin 2016, p. 191. ( Open Access publication )