Noun groups – Identifying and using correct articles, demonstratives and possessives

Determiners: articles, demonstratives and possessives

Determiners are said to mark a noun and while they are, like adjectives, modifiers of the noun, they have a variety of formats. Articles, demonstratives, possessives, numbers and quantifiers clarify nouns and noun groups and are determiners

Articles (a, an, the), demonstratives (this, that, these, those) and possessive adjectives (my, your, his, her, its, our, mum's, Mr Smith's) help to answer the question which one/s in particular. Some, much, many, few, little, a lot, half, are common quantifiers and are used to express amount or quantity. They can be used for both countable or an uncountable noun. Along with ellipsis and substitution, lexical cohesion and text connectives these reference language resources (articles, demonstratives, possessives, quantifiers, superlatives and comparatives) tie the meanings in clauses together so they become unified in a whole text.

Articles are used to identify whether the noun being used is a general or a specific reference. The use of an article is to link ideas and make the text cohesive.

If the reference is general, then the article a or an is used. For example:

'I saw a dog today'. The article an is used if the following general noun begins with a vowel.

'I ate an egg today'. If the reference is specific and the writer is referring to a specific noun, then the article the is used. For example: 'I saw the dog today'.


Like articles, quantifiers are words that precede and modify nouns. They tell us how many or how much. Selecting the correct quantifier depends on understanding the distinction between Count and Non-Count Nouns. An example of a count noun is trees and a non-count noun dancing:

  • The following quantifiers work with count nouns: many, a few, few, several, a couple of, none of the
  • The following quantifiers work with non-count nouns: not much, a little, little, a bit of, a good deal of, a great deal of, no
  • The following quantifiers work with both count and non-count nouns: all of the, some, most of the, enough, a lot of, lots of, plenty of, a lack of.


A pronoun stands in place of a noun, noun group or name. Pronouns set up links by referring to sentences or the context that has just been mentioned to maintain continuity, avoid repetition and make sentences easier to understand. Some possessive pronouns (mine, yours, hers, ours, theirs) take different forms to possessive adjectives (my, your, her, our, their).


There are different types of nouns:

  • common nouns (the vast majority) are the names of classes of things and begin with a lower-case letter, for example, boy, girl, name, verb, biography, computer.
  • proper nouns name specific people, places, things and acronyms and begin with a capital letter, for example,. Cathy Freeman, Sydney Harbour, State Government.
  • abstract nouns name concepts or things that cannot be seen, for example, democracy, hate, joy, honesty, hypothesis.
  • collective nouns name groups of things, for example, team, family, herd, flock, bunch.
  • mass nouns name things that you cannot count, for example, gold, milk, sunshine, furniture, traffic, information.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: article swap

Model the different uses of the articles a, an and the. Students find examples in big books with teachers as they are read. Students then replace with another article to see if meaning is changed. Discuss.

Variation: Add demonstratives (this, that, these, those) and possessives (my, your, his, her, its, our, mum's, Mr Smith's) instead of articles.

Activity 2: a, an, the?

Students develop a series of cards that have pictures cut from magazines that have both consonant beginnings and vowels. On an A3 sheet with three columns, students decide whether the cards require 'a', 'an' or 'the' by making up an oral sentence to go with the picture. (Could be developed using noun cards from other activities).

Activity 3

Students use the cards to play a scavenger hunt game with a partner where they are given 5 cards with an 'a', 'an' and 'the' in a random number of each. Taking it in turns, each partner attaches their card to an object in the room and makes up a sentence with the correct article. Students can only score a point if the sentence and article is correct.

Effective when regularly used and referred to with word walls developed to assist this process.

View and print scavenger hunt cards (PDF 103.26KB)

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