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 sir,
in the following sentence should it be a plural noun or singular after the determiner any ?
•We should wash our hands and feet to avoid any (infections / infection).
As per my understanding in this sentence singular 'infection' seems correct. Sir am I right?

Hello amrita_enakshi,

With countable nouns we use the plural form after 'any', and with uncountable nouns we use the singular. 'Infection' can be used as a countable or an uncountable noun and so both singular and plural are possible in this sentence.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dear Peter M,
Thank you, thanks a lot.

Hello dear team,
I really should get going. Does (get) here imply sort of delay?
Thank you.

Hello Hosseinpour,

The meaning here is either 'I need to leave' or 'I need to start'. For example:

Oh dear, is that the time? It's really late - I should get going. [= I should leave]

I've got a lot of work to do today. I'd better get going. [= I need to start]



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sirs,

I wrote the following sentence:

"At the theoretical level, I aim to forge a middle way between two popular approaches."

But I was confused about the phrase "at the theoretical level."

Should or can I say "at theoretical level" with zero article or "at a theoretical level" with an indefinite article?

Are all the forms acceptable or have they different meanings?
Many thanks as always.

Hello cbenglish,

The most common option here is 'a but 'the' is also possible and I don't think there is any difference in meaning. The zero article is incorrect here.



The LearnEnglish Team

Many thanks sir. Is it possible for you to give a quick response regarding why zero article is not possible? Is it because it's a fixed phrase? I feel that zero article is possible since the term level sounds like an abstract noun. I know I am wrong but can't figure out how to think about it correctly.

Hello cbenglish,

While there are similar phrases with others than words than level, there is no real consistency in how articles are used with them. For example, we can say in the theoretical realm but not in a theoretical realm  in this kind of context. Thus, I would say that this is best treated as an expression to be memorised rather than the expression of a grammatical rule.



The LearnEnglish Team

Help please, I'm confused. According to Cambridge dictionary we don't use the article THE when referring to activities in the building. So why do we use the article THE in the second sentence but not in the first sentence?
1) He's at school (for teacher or student)
2) He's at the hospital (for doctor or patient)