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,

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

These are the sentences from a reputed financial daily :

An SIP cannot give good or bad returns. Returns depend on the performance of the scheme you invest in.

And in the next paragraph :

“Investors should remember why they started a SIP in the first place. SIPs inculcate discipline that is crucial for investors to achieve long-term goals,” says Kunal Bajaj.

Here SIP means systematic investment plan.

In the first paragraph it says ' An SIP " and in the next paragraph it says " ... a SIP. " What do I undrestand from it ?

Hello dipakrgandhi

You have keen eyes! Good job spotting this inconsistency. To determine whether to use 'a' or 'an', you have to think how a word (in this case, an initialism) is pronounced -- as far as I know, 'SIP' is pronounced 'ess ai pee' and not 'sip'. In this case, as you can see from my transliteration of the pronunciation, the word begins with a vowel sound (the letter 'e' that is underlined). Therefore, 'an' would be the correct form.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you.

I would also go for ' an ' only and not ' a ' . But as 'a' has also been used so I wanted a confirmation from you.


Dear Sirs,

I wrote the following very first sentence:

"In a recent study, nearly half of Indians surveyed said they had experienced online abuse."

My confusion is whether I have to use the definite article before Indians:...nearly half of the Indians surveyed..."

I feel like once I have used "half of" a plural noun [Indians in the sentence]," I have to use the definite article the.


Hello cbenglish,

Generally, the definite article is required when you are describing a selected group:

all of / some of / most of / none of / half of / a majority of / a minority of the Indians surveyed


However, sometimes the article is omitted with half of, a minority of and a majority of. So in this case, both options are possible.



The LearnEnglish Team

I would like to ask you about the following example
Technology ( I am referring to the Internet, computers, social media etc) helps people's lives OR
The advanced technology of the Internet and computers helps people lives.
Is it helps or help?
Thank you in advance

" China on Friday dismissed as untrue a US media report that alleged that it has ... "

If you could explain why an indefinite article has been used here even when it refers to a very particular report.

Hi dipakrgandhi,

I can't say for sure without knowing the context, but presumably it's because this is the first time the reporter has mentioned this particular report. Although we speak about 'general' and 'specific' determiners, remember the key issue in many cases is whether we think the person we are speaking to will know which particular thing we are speaking about. If this is a radio news report, for example, and the reporter is just beginning her segment on it, she could not reasonably assume that her audience knows about the media report being discussed at this point in time.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team