Determiners and quantifiers

 

General and specific determiners

Determiners are words which come at the beginning of the noun phrase.

They tell us whether the noun phrase is specific or general.

Determiners are either specific or general

Specific determiners:

The specific determiners are:

  • the definite article: the
  • possessives: my, your, his, her, its; our, their, whose
  • demonstratives: this, that, these, those
  • interrogatives: which

We use a specific determiner when we believe the listener/reader knows exactly what we are referring to:

Can you pass me the salt please?
Look at those lovely flowers.
Thank you very much for your letter.
Whose coat is this?

General determiners:

The general determiners are:

  • a; an; any; another; other; what

When we are talking about things in general and the listener/reader does not know exactly what we are referring to, we can use a uncount noun or a plural noun with no determiner:

Milk is very good for you. (= uncount noun)
Health and education are very important. (= 2 uncount nouns)
Girls normally do better in school than boys. (= plural nouns with no determiner)

… or you can use a singular noun with the indefinite article a or an:

A woman was lifted to safety by a helicopter.
A man climbing nearby saw the accident.

We use the general determiner any with a singular noun or an uncount noun when we are talking about all of those people or things:

It’s very easy. Any child can do it. (= All children can do it)
With a full licence you are allowed to drive any car.
I like beef, lamb, pork - any meat.

We use the general determiner another to talk about an additional person or thing:

Would you like another glass of wine?

The plural form of another is other:

I spoke to John, Helen and a few other friends.

Quantifiers

We use quantifiers when we want to give someone information about the number of something: how much or how many.

Exercise

Comments

Hello,

One website says possessive adj is taken either from pronoun (my, your, etc) or noun (John's, Mary's, etc). What do you think about this?

If you agree with that, in which group, pronoun or noun, should 'whose' be put?

I think I agree with what that website says but I'm not sure where 'whose' belongs to (pronoun or noun).

Hello echoatas4,

Different linguists use different names for these items - some call them possessive adjectives, some call them possessive determiners, some call them possessive pronouns. The arguments are very intricate and really not part of our sphere here on LearnEnglish; we choose the simplest and most accessible description for our users as our goal is to help learners in as practical a way as possible. Therefore on this site we use the term 'possessive adjectives', and you can find information and an exercise on this page.

If you're interested in the various alternative names and categories for these items, including 'whose' then a useful starting point is the relevant wikipedia page, which you can find here.  You'll notice that the description of 'whose' there is as a 'pronominal possessive determiner', which gives you an idea of how complex linguistic terminology becomes! However, identifying the exact name is not in any way needed for correct use of these items, which is what we focus on here on LearnEnglish.

I hope that answers your question.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sirs.
Please help me to understand.
Which of these sentences is right?
An immense number of people decides to work after finishing school.
or
The immense number of people decides to work after finishing school.
And the last query, is it right to substitute people for persons?
...number of persons decides to work ...?

Hello Kamran Ibragimov,

It's hard to answer this without knowing the context, but the most likely answer is that neither is correct.  I would guess, without knowing the context, that the correct form would be 'an immense number decide to work...'  This is because 'a number of...' is followed by a plural verb.  Although it would take a fairly specific context to use 'the' in this context, there is a rule about which articles to use with 'number of' (without adjectives).  I described this rule in an answer to a question from another user:

Quantifiers such as 'a number of' and 'a group of' take a plural verb as they describe many individuals.  Interestingly, when we change the article to a definite article ('the number of' and 'the group of') we use a singular verb.  This is generally explained in terms of how we see the group: as a collection of individuals (indefinite article and plural verb) or as an already-defined unit (definite artlcle and singular verb). Therefore we say:

A number of students are going to the cinema today. The number of students is quite small, however.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello teacher,
i have often faced a difficulty in recognizing the distinction between 'effect' and 'Affect', albeit , i know that one's a noun and the other a verb.

Hello rajesh,

affect describes an action that produces an effect or result. Some of my students have found it helpful to think of alphabetical order: the letter a (in affect) comes before the letter e (effect), just as one must first affect (verb) something in order for an effect (noun) to be produced.

Hope this helps!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear English Teacher,

Since I am a Slav, the proper usage of the/a remains a "riddle wrapped up in an enigma" to me. A "golden rule" says that we use no/zero article with general notions like "mice fear cats", right? Can one then omit the definite article in superlative adjective forms? See this example from a scientific discussion:

"According to Smith (2011), best reproduction performance (largest litters and highest weaning rates) is achieved by females whose period between the first and the last copulation was shortest."

What do you think? Thanks for help :)
Piotr

Hello Piotr,

Yes, you're right about "mice fear cats", and you're also correct in thinking that it's unusual to leave out the definite article "the" before a superlative form. When "best" is used to mean "optimal", however, especially to report general findings in academic or scientific writing, the definite article is usually left out.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a million, Kirk! I have already noticed that scientific language has some peculiarities.

can we use "which is too far from me" and why we are using which there?

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