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.




Do we use articles for community names in plurals, like Hindus, Muslims, or Christians? Would it be correct to say, "Holi is the festival of Hindus"? Or shall we say, "Holi is the festival of the Hindus"?

Please clarify.

Hello Adya's,

Articles are used if appropriate, but it's also possible for them not to be needed. For example, 'Muslims will begin celebrating Ramadan in a couple of days' doesn't require an article or 'Maha Shivaratri is an important festival for Hindus', but 'the Hindus' is also possible if you're talking about a specific group, e.g. 'the Hindus of Nepal' could be needed if you'd already been talking about them.

It's more common in British English to say 'Holi is a Hindu festival' than 'Holi is a festival of the Hindus'. As far as I know, there is no reason for this -- it's more just a question of usage.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the reply. The example of Maha Shivaratri is adorable.

Dear Peter M
Thanks for your prompt response. Most part of the doubt has been cleared; however, some traces remain. Can you suggest me some more blogs pages related to the topic so that even traces are wiped off.


Hello Adya's,

I'm afraid we don't recommend sites outside the British Council. An internet search for 'definite article' or 'articles general meaning' will give you many results to sample. If you stick to reputable sources (publishing houses, academic institutions and so on) then you should find relevant and accurate information.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

I did search the net as you suggested, but failed to find anything worthwhile. Please take some to write a fresh, detailed write-up on the topic. It will help many.


Hello Adya's,

Thanks for your suggestion, which we will certainly take into consideration for the future. For now, however, I'm afraid we're unable to provide what you request. As Peter suggested, I would recommend looking for explanations at other reputable website, for example, the Cambridge Dictionary.

Good luck!

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

'A/an' is used to denote a class of thing. 'The' is also used to denote a class of thing. Then, is there any difference in the following two sentences? Please elaborate.
1. A cow is a useful animal.
2. The cow is a useful animal.