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If you have followed the guide to determiners on this site, you will probably have noticed that determiners rarely co-occur.  We cannot, for example, have:

  • *the a car
  • *that the man
  • *my the house

etc.  This restriction, incidentally, does not exist in a range of other languages.

However, there is a distinct class of determiners which function to modify other determiners.  What is included in this class is a matter of some disagreement.  The approach taken here is to consider first which determiners most authorities will agree can function as pre-determiners and then to consider some more marginal cases which, at least for teaching purposes, can be analysed in the same way.

Note right now that only one pre-determiner per phrase is permissible.  In other words, these items are all mutually exclusive and cannot co-occur.

all both half

all, both, half

These pre-determiners function slightly differently.

With singular count nouns we can use half and all but not both
For example:
    half a loaf is better than none
    half this job will be done soon
    all my cake has been eaten
    he waited all that day

but not:
    *both a car and a bicycle are useful
With plural count nouns we can use all three pre-determiners but half cannot be used with the zero article
For example:
    half those oranges are rotten
    both the children came
    all the men went home and stayed there
    all lions are unpredictable
    both dogs are friendly

but not
    *half people arrived
    *half trains are late
With mass nouns we can use half or all but not both.  Additionally, only all can be used before the zero article
For example:
    half my money is already gone
    all the information is not needed
    all luggage will be returned at baggage reclaim

but not:
    *half chocolate is gone
    *both sugar and flour are gone


There are a few other things to notice with this group of pre-determiners.

  1. We cannot use all, both or half before other quantifier determiners:
    1. *half every, *both neither, *all each, *half some, *both no, *all enough are all disallowed for obvious reasons of the meaning they carry
    2. There is an informal use of half in which this rule can be broken:
          I don't have half enough time to do this
      but this only works with enough.
  2. These three pre-determiners have alternative of-constructions such as:
        all of the time
        both of the boys
        half of the house

    Although this is an optional structure when the noun is being determined, it must be used when we are pre-modifying a pronoun so we have:
        all of it was wasted
        both of them came
        half of it was used
        half of them were drunk

    but not
        *both them arrived
        *half it was rotten

  3. All three can act as pronouns (pro-forms) rather than determiners in their own right:
        All arrived in time
        Both broke immediately
        Half was rotten
  4. Only all and both can follow the noun or pronoun they determine:
        the ladies all arrived late
        the children both cried

    but not:
        *the cake half was eaten
  5. The pre-determiner both is not so much plural as dual (a concept taken much further in some languages).  It shares this characteristic with the determiners neither and either.


multipliers: double, triple, quadruple, once, twice, three times, four times ...

These are less complicated and can occur:

With singular count nouns, plural count nouns and mass nouns
twice the price
double that amount
three times the weight
20 times his ability
double the chairs will be needed
quadruple the effort
With the determiners a, every, each and per, once, twice, three times etc. make distributives
once every term
three times a year
six times each month
20 times per century


  1. There is no parallel of-construction so we cannot have, e.g.:
        *double of the work
        *three times of his height
  2. None of these pre-determiners can follow the noun or pronoun so we can't have, e.g.:
        *the amount three times
        *the price quadruple of the other
  3. There are some arguably old fashioned or rare uses which it may be best to avoid except at the highest levels including, e.g., thrice, sextuple etc.


fractions: one-sixth, two-fifths, three-quarters etc.

These, too, are fairly straightforward but it is worth noting some things:

  1. All these expressions have alternative, parallel of-constructions and these are usually preferred.  Some of the examples without of in the following sound strange to most native speakers:
        one-third the money > one-third of the money
        sixth-sevenths the time > sixth-sevenths of the time

        three-quarters the effort > three-quarters of the effort
        five-eighths the distance > five-eighths of the distance

  2. The pre-determiner half is not included in this section because it has some characteristics which are not shared by fraction pre-determiners, especially when it comes to the use of the of-construction with count nouns:
    We can have:
        half those vegetables are rotten
    but not
        *one third those vegetables are rotten
  3. Some fractions in English are a real challenge to pronounce and spell.  Consider particularly sixths, eighths, sixtieths (respectively, /sɪksθs/, /eɪtθs/, /ˈsɪk.stɪəθs/) etc.
    Many languages simply do not allow consonant clusters such as /ksθs/ and speakers of those languages (Japanese and Arabic, for example, as well as some south-east Asian languages) will find it very hard to get them right.
    Speakers of Slavic languages will have less difficulty because those languages routinely contain quite forbidding consonant clusters.  The Slovak word štvrť, for example, (pronounced /ʃtvr̩tʲ/ and meaning quarter) contains no vowels at all.  Germanic languages, too, contain frequent consonant clusters.
    Do not be surprised, therefore, if fractions are pronounced with intervening vowels inserted between the consonants (e.g., /sɪəksəθəs/ instead of /sɪksθs/).


partitive phrases as pre-determiners

There is a separate guide to partitives and classifiers on this site so here it is enough to note that many partitive phrases can pre-determine.  For example:
    I'd like a rasher of that bacon (a restricted partitive, rasher, which cannot be used with any other noun)
    He put in a slice of the lime (a typical partitive, slice, which can only be used with certain types of noun carrying the concept of thinness)
    I gave him a piece of my mind (a general partitive usable with almost all mass nouns)


attitudinal pre-determiners: such, what, rather, quite

It is not the case that all grammarians would include these four words in the category of pre-determiner but, because they share structural characteristics with the other forms discussed above, it is legitimate for teaching purposes to include them.  Some analyses will call these intensifying pre-determiners but that misleads because they don't all intensify.  What they all do, however, is communicate the speaker / writer's attitude.

such and rather
These words have other functions, of course, operating as adverbials in, e.g., such beautiful work should be exhibited, rather nasty weather etc.
Here we are concerned with their function as a pre-determiner when they serve to emphasise the speaker's attitude as in, e.g.:
    don't be such a baby (= you are being very like a baby)
    she is such a nice woman (= she is a very nice woman)
    this is such good food (= this is very good food [zero article])
    he is rather a stupid player (= more than usually stupid)
    they have rather a nice house (= more than usually nice)
The reason many analyses do not include these as a proper pre-determiners is that they can only pre-determine the indefinite or zero article and not the range of possessives and demonstratives etc. which have been exemplified for the real pre-determiners above.  We cannot have, therefore:
    *such my house
    *such those eggs
    *such the cat
    *rather her car
    *rather those apples
Note that in American English rather is confined to its adverb function but in British English, it is used as a pre-determiner with much the same, although slightly less emphatic, meaning as such.
This word, too, clearly has a number of other uses in the language but as a pre-determiner it functions to express surprise, joy or disappointment in exclamations such as:
    What an exceptional result!
    What gorgeous weather! (zero article)
    What a very stupid thing to say!

Again, this word can only pre-determine the indefinite or zero articles.
This is an anomalous word because it can carry two distinct attitudinal messages:
1) Positive attitude when used with a non-gradable adjective in the noun phrase:
    It was a quite fantastic show
    It was a quite disgusting performance

2) Negative attitude when used in other environments:
    It was a quite interesting development (i.e., not very interesting)
Sentence stress plays a role here and the stress or lack of it on the pre-determiner can imply a down-toning or intensifying meaning.


The determiners rather and quite can act as post-determiners, following the determiner proper so we can have:
    It was a rather / quite interesting development
    It was rather / quite an interesting development
    That's rather / quite interesting information
(zero article)
(Arguably, in fact, putting the item after the indefinite or zero article simply results in its acting as an adverb pre-modifying the adjective and not a determiner at all.)
We cannot do this with what and such so we cannot have:
    *A what beautiful picture
    *A such beautiful picture


teaching these forms

Other languages

The first thing to note is that your learners' language(s) will almost certainly handle these sorts of concepts differently.  For example, it is perfectly OK in Greek to have the my friend or that the dog.  Italic languages, such as Italian and Spanish, but not French, allow the possessive determiner to co-occur with the article, too.
In some languages, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Swedish, for example, affixes (often suffixes) act as determiners.
Other languages, such as Finnish, also have possessive affixes doing a similar job.

The way to bet is to presume from the outset that pre-determiners will

  1. be used differently in your learners' language(s) and have different co-occurrence rules
  2. be virtually untranslatable
  3. cause problems if they are presented in a piecemeal fashion with no consideration of parallel forms
  4. cause problems if they are presented all together in an overwhelming mass of data


It is very important (not just here) to present these forms in a clear context for which graphics and realia are the obvious source because concepts do not coincide across languages.

For example, it is easy enough to come up with visuals such as:

each half both
How do you feel?
It's quite an interesting painting
What a beautiful painting
What an awful painting
It's such a beautiful painting
It's rather a boring painting
Anything else?
Discuss with two other students
Find two people who agree with you


At lower levels, especially, a little Total Physical Response teaching may be appropriate.  For example:
    John, give all the men a piece of blue paper.
    Mary, give all the students a piece of white paper.
    Arthur, give both a green and a white piece of paper to a student
    June, give both your pieces of paper to Fred



There is almost no point at all in tackling this area at all if the distinction between count and mass nouns is unclear to your students.

Related guides
determiners for more on the forms of determiners in general
partitives a guide to partitives and classifiers
adverb modifiers for more on this class of adverbs which serve to emphasise, amplify or tone down meanings