I have heard the, a, and an referred to as both articles and determiners. Do these two terms mean the same thing, or are there some differences between them? Can a word be an article but not a determiner, and vice versa?

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    If you accept the word class determiner/determinative, as most modern linguists do, a quick look at Wikipedia articles (other sense) shows that the articles form a subclass of determiners. Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 20:24
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    @Edwin: Even without getting too bogged down in "professional" terminology, most of us probably know that the/a are the definite/indefinite articles. And ordinary semantics suggests to me that this/that/those/these (which aren't "traditional" articles) determine which particular one we're talking about. Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 20:57
  • @FumbleFingers Wouldn't common sense also tell us that that's the function of the ans a too? Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 1:05
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    Well, this/that/those/these also do double duty as demonstrative pronouns and can therefore standalone. Their physically demonstrative aspect sets them apart from the/an/a, which must precede a noun to function within a sentence. The two groups provide/indicate different types of information.
    – miltonaut
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 4:18
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    this is a pronoun when it's used by itself, e.g. this is the place. It's a determiner when it's used to qualify a noun, e.g. this car is red.
    – Barmar
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 2:36

1 Answer 1


In grammar determiner is the more general category:

  1. Grammar A modifying word that determines the kind of reference a noun or noun group has, for example a, the, every. See also article.


Wikipedia lists seven common types of determiners:

  • Articles
  • Demonstratives
  • Possessives
  • Quantifiers
  • Numerals
  • Distributives
  • Interrogatives

An article is one type of determiner.

definite article
Grammar A determiner (the in English) that introduces a noun phrase and implies that the thing mentioned has already been mentioned, or is common knowledge, or is about to be defined (as in the book on the table; the art of government; the famous public school in Berkshire).
Compare with

indefinite article
Grammar A determiner (a and an in English) that introduces a noun phrase and implies that the thing referred to is non-specific (as in she bought me a book; government is an art; he went to a public school).
Typically, the indefinite article is used to introduce new concepts into a discourse.


In grammar, not all determiners are articles, but all articles are determiners.

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