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 an 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.


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




Can "during" be followed by a gerund or only by a noun / noun phrase ?
Can I say " During watching the film , the light went out " ? or just say " During the film .........."

Hello Bassant,

The generally accepted rule is that 'during' cannot be followed by a gerund. You can find constructions such as 'during studying' in some contexts but I would say that these are generally not considered good style or correct standard English.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir,

I need to know if I wrote a sentence with a noun phrase "The isolated compound is ......" and then I wrote "The isolated is ...." throughout as it is already mentioned before that "The isolated is ...." refers to "The isolated compound", this will be grammatically correct. That is, I would like to know whether "the" followed by an "adjective" can stand alone as a noun phrase without adding a head noun as I already added it previously and it will be understood from the context.

Thanks in advance

Hello marwa,

Yes, you can use an adjective like that, though this kind of use is relatively rare in English compared to many other languages (though I'm not familiar with Arabic) and I expect it would sound unnatural if you used it repeatedly in this way. It's difficult to give you more specific advice without seeing the text, but usually this form is used when there are two different kinds of compounds that you are contrasting, e.g. an isolated compound vs some other kind of compound. Even then, as I mentioned, it would be unusual to continue saying just 'isolated' after that.

I don't know if this OWL page might be useful for you or not, but I thought I'd mention it.

I hope this helps you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello !!!
I am trying to find dictionary here.
I can't find it. Could anybody please tell me?
Thank you.

Hello Naunglai,

Our link to the Cambridge Dictionary wasn't working correctly, so we took it off the site. But you can still look up words by using their website directly.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
Please clarify this for me. Salt is uncountable but we can say 'Please pass me the salt. Also the sugar in the bottle but how do you say
Dinner we had yesterday ... or The dinner we had yesterday ...Is the latter wrong. Please let me know.
Thank you.

Hello Andrew international,

I'm afraid I'm not sure I understand your question. We can use 'the' with both countable and uncountable nouns.

'The dinner we had yesterday' is the correct sentence. The sentence identifies which dinner you are talking about and so 'the' is needed.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
Thank you. Now it is clear. I know 'the' can be used with both uncountable and countable nouns but I haven't come across any text with 'the' before breakfast, lunch, dinner but sugar, salt etc 'yes' such as the examples given so I was unsure.
Now I know one can use 'the' directly with dinner, too according to context.
Thank you again.