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.




Hello Rox4090,

This is actually quite a big topic, since 'this' is used in so many different ways and to mean different things. I'm afraid I can't possibly cover all of them, but, for example, consider 'it', 'this' and 'that' when used as pronouns.

All three are commonly used to refer back to situations that have just been mentioned. 'it' has no emphasis, whereas 'this' and 'that' put more focus on the situation. If you are making a simple statement about the previous thing, both 'this' and 'that' are appropriate, but if you're going to speak at length about the situation, 'this' is better.

If you could give a specific example of a sentence (with context) that you struggle to understand, we will do our best to help you understand it. You might also want to check out the Wikipedia article on Deixis -- especially the Place deixis section -- though it's quite technical.

I hope this helps you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for the prompt reply.

Many children are dying from the malnutrition. This shows that the government agencies are inept towards their responsibilities.
Strict penalties should be given to repeat offenders. Life imprisonment can be awarded to those who commit heinous crimes and short term jail for those committing petty crimes like theft or fraud. These types of punishments may reduce the crime rate; however, if after this, it is not reduced, government can revise the penalties in order to curb the criminal activities.

Please see if the word ‘this” is ok.


Is this sentence correct? It's strange to me because of the 'a':

'What makes you think he is a him'

Thank you.

Hello MCWSL,

Yes, that is correct. The object form of personal pronouns is usually used after the verb 'be', especially in simple copulas (such as this case). It's a bit strange, really, but it's how native speakers speak.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team


Why do we use ''a'' article with numbers when giving a number to something; for example,

''I give you a seven for the appearance''

Thank you in advance.

Hello JakiGeh,

Here the idea is that you are giving a rating or measurement -- it's as if you were saying 'I give you a (rating of) seven'.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

what is the difference between " How do you feel about John?" and " How do you feel about John"?
Best regards,

Hello Abdullah,

Different style guides make different recommendations on how to punctuate sentences.  I'd say that most would punctuate a question the first way, i.e. with the question mark inside the quotation marks. There is no difference in meaning between them.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Sorry, my question was about the difference between " What do you feel about John?" and " How do you feel about John"?

thanks in advance

Hello Abdullah,

It's unusual to use 'what' with the verb 'feel' in this way -- 'how' is much more common. As far as I know, this is just a question of use, i.e. this is the way people speak. It's not that 'what' is unintelligible; it just sounds a bit strange. If you put a noun such as 'feelings' or 'emotions' after 'what', however, then it would work.

By the way, if you change the verb to 'think', the opposite is true, i.e. 'what' is commonly used and 'how' is not.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team