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.





'Rent makes up half of the living expenses'

Is the only reason we don't use ''a'' before half because half of expenses is still an uncountable noun?

Thank you in advance

Hello JakiGeh,

The use of articles with 'half' is not entirely consistent. It is possible to use 'a' here:

... a half of the living expenses

And this follows the pattern of other fractions:

... a third of ...

... a quarter of ...

... a tenth of ...

However, no article is much more common with 'half'. It is not dependent on the noun which follows:

I'll have half of the money, please.

I'll use half of the apple in this recipe.

Give me half of the chairs.


This is an example of a word which is common enough to have developed idiosyncrasies in its use, I'm afraid.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello ,
Is it possible to use the word "eye" to refer to a person ?
EX: 10 eyes looked at him
that means ten persons or just five
Thanks in advance

Hello Bassant El-Ghazaly,

It is possible to say something like this. It has a literary ring to it and would be unusual in other contexts.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Am I correct that in the sentence 'What I want is some milk.', that 'What' is acting as a general determiner before the pronoun 'I' that follows it. Thank you for help.

Hello Atlas,

There doesn't seem to be a clear consensus on what part of speech 'what' is in a pseudo-cleft sentence such as this one, but I'd call it a pronoun, as it is the object of 'I want' and head of the relative clause 'What I want'.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

My question, and if possible, could you note a rule that supports, if a determiner or quantifier, is not used for example: "Trees have leaves." Does this mean "All trees have leaves."?

Hello bengalcliff,

When we speak about countable things in general, probably the most common form to use is the plural (e.g. 'Trees have leaves', 'Dogs are man's best friend'). This means more or less the same as 'All trees have leaves', but 'all trees' can mean something a bit more specific. 'Trees' refers to trees in general (with perhaps a few exceptions), whereas 'all trees' really means all trees, i.e. all the different species of trees. But in many cases, these two different phrasings will mean essentially the same thing.

As for rules, our Articles 1 and 2 pages explain the three golden rules of using articles. I hope this helps you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

"The integration will enable document and email generation by xyz and the storage of the generated documents and emails in abc's storage."

Why should 'the' be used with storage?

"Digital tools can support policy agendas and facilitate the achievement of opportunities for businesses, consumers, and government."

Why 'the' with the word achievement? Achievement cannot be counted, and it is not te only one of its type.