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.




100% successful I was.

good one!

Hi English sifus,
I am having some troubles deciding when to use definite articles and when not to use any on countable nouns.
For example, I am confused with this one particular sentence in John Grisham's A Time To Kill:
"The facade was a huge, centered gable with hipped roof over a wide, inset front porch. Under the gable a small portico covered with bargeboard hung gently over the porch. The five supporting pillars were round and painted white and slate blue. Each column bore..."
Why didn't he use "... covered with a bargeboard..." here?
Many thanks in advance!

Hi crosshatched,

Great observation! "a bargeboard" would be grammatically correct here, but it's not unusual to use some singular count nouns as uncount nouns to express an amount or what something is made of. Another couple examples of this are: "We don't have enough bricks to build 10m of wall" or "The castle's roof is made of slate tile".

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Kirk.
With regards to your first example "We don;t have enough bricks to build 10m of wall", personally it sounds a bit weird without an "a" before 10m of wall.
But it's good to learn that the sentence without the article is considered grammatically correct.
Thanks again! 

Dear Teachers,
I am confused why was not' any determiner ' placed before peanut butter in the following sentence.
I gave my dog Oreo a scoop of peanut butter.( why not - of the peanut butter)
Kindly please clarify it . 
With kind regards,

Hello Livon,

Both sentences are grammatically possible; which is correct depends on the context.

'... of peanut butter' - we would say this when we are talking about peanut butter as a foodstuff - in a general sense rather than any specific example.  It is a similar use to 'I like peanut butter'.

'... of the peanut butter' - we would say this when we are talking about some specific peanut butter which we had already mentioned or referenced, such as some that had just been bought, or some that we had discovered was out of date.  It is a similar use to 'I liked the peanut butter that we ate last week'.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

In addition to the above , I would also like to know why we sometimes do not use determiners in preposition phrases. 
Kindly please clarify with some examples.
With kind regards,

Hello again Livon,

That's a very general question which really requires a very long grammatical explanation - something you can better get from your teacher!  Do you have any specific sentences or examples in mind?  We'll be happy to comment on those if so.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team