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.

Quantifiers

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

Exercise

Comments

Dear Sirs,

I wrote the following very first sentence:

"In a recent study, nearly half of Indians surveyed said they had experienced online abuse."

My confusion is whether I have to use the definite article before Indians:...nearly half of the Indians surveyed..."

I feel like once I have used "half of" a plural noun [Indians in the sentence]," I have to use the definite article the.

Thanks.

Hello cbenglish,

Generally, the definite article is required when you are describing a selected group:

all of / some of / most of / none of / half of / a majority of / a minority of the Indians surveyed

 

However, sometimes the article is omitted with half of, a minority of and a majority of. So in this case, both options are possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
I would like to ask you about the following example
Technology ( I am referring to the Internet, computers, social media etc) helps people's lives OR
The advanced technology of the Internet and computers helps people lives.
Is it helps or help?
Thank you in advance

" China on Friday dismissed as untrue a US media report that alleged that it has ... "

If you could explain why an indefinite article has been used here even when it refers to a very particular report.

Hi dipakrgandhi,

I can't say for sure without knowing the context, but presumably it's because this is the first time the reporter has mentioned this particular report. Although we speak about 'general' and 'specific' determiners, remember the key issue in many cases is whether we think the person we are speaking to will know which particular thing we are speaking about. If this is a radio news report, for example, and the reporter is just beginning her segment on it, she could not reasonably assume that her audience knows about the media report being discussed at this point in time.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sirs,

I wrote the following sentence: "when love marriage takes place across caste groups in India, the intermarrying couple faces a complicated problem."

But I am confused about using an article before the noun "love marriage." I have used love marriage without an article thinking that it is not a concrete marriage event (or it's an abstract noun). But I also feel like I have to use a or the or the plural form (love marriages).

I really appreciate your comment on my reasoning.

Hello cbenglish,

The term love marriage is used in the same way as marriage in terms of the use of articles. For general use all articles are possible, but there are slight differences in meaning.


a + singular countable noun

we can use this with general meaning when we are talking about something which defines the group.

For example:

An elephant is an impressive sight.

In other words, being an impressive sight is one of the characteristics of an elephant; if we saw an animal and it was not impressive then we could be fairly sure that it was not an elephant.  We are talking about any elephant here - it is true of them all.

 

the + singular noun

we can use this with general meaning when we are talking about our image or concept of the noun.

For example:

The elephant can live for over sixty years.

Here we are not talking about a real elephant, but rather the concept of 'elephant' in our heads.

 

no article + plural countable noun or uncountable noun

we use this to talk about what is normal or typical of a type.  It may or may not be true of all individuals but it is typical of most.

For example:

Swedish people are tall.

Here we are talking about the average height of Swedes, not any particular person or concept.

 

The distinctions are subtle but sometimes can be important.

For example, we can say with general meaning:

Whales are in danger of becoming extinct.

The whale is in danger of becoming extinct.

 

However, we cannot say:

A whale is in danger of becoming extinct.

This is because being in danger of becoming extinct may be true but it does not define the whale.

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Very helpful explaination sir.

Now, can we also say - without article- ' Elephant is an impressive sight. ' This is because what I understand is that when the case is general - we can opt for zero article.

Abou your 'Whale's' example - can we also say ' The whales are in danger of becoming extinct ' - plural with definite article.

Abou not using 'a' in ' Whale's ' example - this is for the first time I am learning that using 'a' would cause to define the noun . If you could enlighten me on this concept.
Also, how would the meanings in ' Love marriage' example change with different articles with singular and plural cases?
I am eager to know all these because I have never come across such a detailed explaination about changes in meanings with changes in articles .

Thanking you

Hello dipakrgandhi,

In my explanation I said we can use no article + plural countable noun or uncountable noun. 'Elephant' is a countable noun, so we need to say

Elephants are an impressive sight.

 

'The whales' would refer to a particular group of whales, not whales in general. For example, you might talk about 'the whales of the Atlantic Ocean' or similar.

 

When we say

A whale is an impressive sight

we are talking about a characteristic that is typical or representative of whales: being impressive is one of the things that goes with being a whale.

 

The reason we can't say

A whale might become extinct

is because being extinct is not something that happens to a whale, and not something which defines what a whale is.

 

The changes in 'love marriage' would be the same as the examples I gave. The choice of noun does not affect this.

 

Peter

The LeanEnglish Team

Thank you !

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