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.



Dear sirs,

This is the first sentence of a paragraph on writing tips: "It’s important to keep one person per dialogue so you do not confuse the reader."

Why does this sentence use "the reader?" Could I say readers or the readers in the place of the reader? How does the meaning of the sentence change?

I struggle to identify whether "the reader" is a definite or indefinite noun.

On the one hand, it appears a definite noun since the reader means your reader; in this case, isn't a plural form ("the readers") more appropriate? On the other hand, it appears as readers in general. In this case, should not we use simply readers, not "the reader" as the sentence does.

Many thanks.

Hello cbenglish,
The definite article is used here because the speaker is referring to a particular, if imagined, reader:
> the reader who is reading your text <

Other forms are also possible, depending on how the speaker imagines the situation:
> ...the reader (a person who is reading your text)
> ...the readers (a group of people who are reading your text)
> ...readers (any people who may read your text)

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Team,

I wanted to know if there are any reasons/logic behind commission and omission of article 'The'.

Could you also help me understand the difference between - On call and In call; Logged in and logged on.


Hello Abhimanyu Hannah

Yes, there's quite a lot behind the use or omission of articles, but I'm afraid it's not something that can be explained in a few short sentences. I'd recommend you work through the pages in this section, as well as read through our Articles 1 and 2 pages. If you have a specific question after that, please feel to ask it here.

Most people don't differentiate between 'log in' and 'log on', though there is a difference. You can read about it in the or by doing an internet search for 'difference between login and logon'.

When someone is 'on call', they are available to work, but you must call them to ask them to work. This is typical for doctors and IT technicians, among others. I'm not familiar with 'in call', though you can be 'in a call', i.e. you are on the phone at that time and are not available to speak to someone else.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Kirk.

About article 'The'. I wanted to understand that is there any reason that why do we use 'the' in the following scenarios:
1. The Dal Lake; but omit 'the' when the name of a lake starts with the word Lake - Lake Michigan
2. How did we come to conclusion that we need to commit 'the' before the names of rivers, seas, deserts, mountain ranges but not in front of a Mt. peak.

I'm trying to find out if there's any reason to it or are they just rules which came into existence over a period of time.


Hello Abhimanyu Hannah
As far as I know, it is not correct to say 'The Dal Lake' -- instead, it should be 'Dal Lake'. That is what I see in the Wikipedia, for example (
As for the irregular use of 'the' before geoforms, I honestly don't really know. An expert in historical linguistics might be able to tell you more about this, but I'm afraid I don't know enough about this topic to say anything with any authority. I usually think of it as something that has developed through use over the time -- this is how most linguistic forms come about, ultimately.
Best wishes
The LearnEnglish Team

Is the Class going to be held,,,? Why Hold can't be used here while we are using present continuous tense

Hello Inqilab,

The sentence has going to, which is a present continuous form as you say. However, it is followed by a passive form: a passive infinitive (to be held). Passive forms require the past participle, so held is used instead of hold.

Here's another example:

Peter is going to cook a cake. [to cook = an infinitive]

The cake is going to be cooked. [to be cooked = a passive infinitive]



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sirs,

I have this sentence: "When our life plans fall apart, sadness naturally occurs. It’s the sign of a tender heart."

My question is about the second sentence. Should I use "...the sign of..." or "...a sign of..."? Or both would be correct? My thinking is that I should not be using the since there are other signs of a tender heart. But I also feel like using the definite article, it gives an emphasis to the fact that it is a major or important sign. Am I right in my reasoning?

As always, thank you and I appreciate your help.

Hello cbenglish,

Both 'a' and 'the' are possible.

If you use 'a' then we understand that there are a number of signs of a tender heart and this is one of them. If you use 'the' then you are suggesting that only one thing shows a tender heart.



The LearnEnglish Team