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.


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



Determiners come at the beginning of the noun phrase and tell us whether it is specific or general. We use quantifiers to give information about the number of something.


I have the apple. And this is yours.
I have the apple. And that is yours.
I have the apple. And it is yours.

Hi sir.
I have a question.
I want to know about difference of "This/that/it".
Can you tell me about that?

Thanks for your fast reply.

As your suggestion, I read those pages for a few minutes.
I got a concept about 'near and this' and 'not near and that'.
But I still have a question.
I wish to understand the difference of 'that' and 'it'.
For example, here is one situation below.

A : Is that my one?
B : It is really yours.

In this situation, can I use 'that' instead of 'it'?

Hello shinhwa,

If you used 'that' instead of 'it', people would understand, but it would not be correct. You should use 'it' after it's clear what you're talking about.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there!

Please check whether or not the following sentence is grammatically correct?
"He is that kind of child who never listens to others."

Is using "that" in the above sentence correct?

Hello Abdul Quadir,

You should use 'the' instead of 'that' in that sentence.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Are "quantifiers" specific or general and when can they replace determiners? Please explain the difference between these two classes of words?

Hello shulaan,

The specific and general distinction refers to determiners, and examples of each are listed on the page above. Quantifiers tell us the amount or number of something. The division here is between uncountable and countable items, not specific and general.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Are both of the below sentences correct? Is there any difference in them ?

His few paintings have bagged many prestigious awards.
A few of his paintings have bagged many prestigious awards.


Hello Kelsie_29,

There's a difference between these two sentences – note that the first uses 'few' and the second 'a few'. The first one means that he has painted a small number of paintings and that all or most of them have won awards. In the second, there's the idea that he's painted many paintings and that a small number of them have won awards.

I'd also suggest you look up 'few' and 'a few' in the dictionary – see the Cambridge Dictionaries Online search box on the right side of this page. Be sure to read through the different entries and study the example sentences.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team