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.




Thanks for replying.

So if I wrote ' Titanic had an advanced safety system'
Then according to the.context, it is fine, did I understand correctly?/

Hello Sad,

We use definite articles with ship names, however, so we would begin 'The Titanic'. Other than that, it's fine.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear all,
if the first word the name of a person or a place, then we do not use "the" with namse like these, for examples: Victoria Station, Edinburg Castle, Buckingham Palace but we use "the" when say The Eiffel Tower - why?

Hi Deniseko,

There are some general rules for using articles with place names on our definite article: the page, but I'm afraid right now that page isn't working for technical reasons. Therefore I'm going to refer you to another page that has the same content as a temporary solution.

In the end, however, this is mostly a matter of convention, as of course Buckingham Palace and Edinburg Castle, like the Eiffel Tower, are also well-known buildings.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sirs, Please look at the following sentence:

"The Korean war never formally ended and the threat of a new devastating conflict has hung over the peninsula for decades."

My question is about the article use before the noun threat. In this sentence, can I say:....and a threat of a new devastating...

What if threat is used without an article (e.g.,...and threat of a new devastating...) since it appears to me that threat is an abstract noun in the sentence.

Thank you very much for your wonderful support.

Hello cbenglish,

The definite article is used here because 'threat' is not general but is defined. It is not any devastating conflict which is referenced but a specific devastating conflict: renewed conflict in the aforementioned Korean War.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sirs,

Is the use of the before the phrase 'book nerd' in the following sentence correct?

"You may not know this, but I am quite the book nerd – a voracious reader."

Since the phrase 'book nerd' appears for the first time, I feel like it should be 'a book nerd.' Am I right in my thinking, or the both will be correct?

Thank you very much.

Hello cbenglish,

Yes, it is correct but you could also say 'a book nerd'.

The phrase 'quite the...' is used with many nouns, often in a humorous way:

Your little boy is quite the explorer, isn't he?

You're quite the computer programmer, aren't you?

My boss is quite the little dictator.



The LearnEnglish Team

I play football at(a-the-no article ) school.
Please explain the answer

Hello Adill,

We normally ask that our users tell us what they think the answer is. Most of the time, no article is used here, though 'a' and 'the' are also possible. It really depends on the context and meaning, which are missing here.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team