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 Sirs,

I am trying to compose a sentence:

Imagine what it would be like to live without [a] language.

I just can't figure out whether I should use an indefinite article before the noun language. To me use of an article in the sentence above appears optional. Am I right in my thinking?

Thanks in advance!

Hello cbenglish,

The sentence is correct both with and without the article, and both have a general meaning.

It is possible to use different articles with a general meaning but there are some changes in emphasis and even meaning. I wrote quite a long explanation of this in answer to another use a while ago. You can find that post here"



The LearnEnglish Team

They have eaten it all. In this sentence to me all is an adverb because it is describing how much they have eaten. But a dictinary is saying it is a pronoun. Plz guide.

Hello aseel aftab,

The word 'all' has many uses. You can find good guides here:


However, I would suggest that you try not to worry too much about the labels given to particular parts of speech. We can use 'all' as a pronoun followed by of (all of them) or following an object pronoun (them all), but identifying the name of the form is much less important than knowing what it means and how it is used.



The LearnEnglish Team

What is the difference between all the food and all of the food?

Hello aseel aftab,

All can be used with general or specific meaning; all of can only be used with specific meaning:

All cats have whiskers. [every example of a cat anywhere - general]

All of cats have whiskers.

All these cats are black. [every example of a cat in this group - specific]

All of these cats are black.


Both can be used with nouns (as above).

Both can be used with possessive adjectives (all your cats / all of your cats).

We can only use all of before pronouns:

All of you are my friends.

All you are my friends.



The LearnEnglish Team


What's the difference between a determiner of quantifiers and pronoun. Some dictionaries also say one thing is both pronoun and determiner and their uses are also same so how can we avoid confusions?

Hello aseel aftab,

Words can have different uses, so a word like 'fast' can be an adjective (a fast car), and adverb (go fast) and a verb (fast for a week), for example.

With regard to the names given to these forms, please see my answer to your other question below.



The LearnEnglish Team

Are they not demonstrative adjectives or simply adjectives as they are describing noun? This is what I have read in an english learning book plz guide

Hello aseel aftab,

Different labels can be applied to determiners. You can find a discussion of this on the relevant wikipedia page in the section headed 'Description':



The LearnEnglish Team