There are two main types of determiners: specific and general. Let’s look at specific determiners first.

The definite article – ‘the’ – is a specific determiner. If we say ‘the table’, it is assumed that both the speaker and the listener know which table is being talked about.

Demonstratives form another group of specific determiners: this group includes demonstrative adjectives and demonstrative pronouns. A demonstrative adjective is used to demonstrate an object or person being talked about in a sentence, e.g. ‘this chair’, ‘that bag’, ‘those people’. Demonstrative adjectives show where an object is in relation to the speaker. If the object is near the speaker we tend to use ‘this’ (singular) and ‘these’ (plural). If an object is far from a speaker we use ‘that’ (singular) and ‘those’ (plural).

Demonstrative pronouns are used in place of nouns and should not be confused with demonstrative adjectives. For example, in the sentence ‘that is crazy’, the word ‘that’ functions as a pronoun. However if we say ‘that crazy cat’, the word ‘that’ functions as a demonstrative adjective modifying the noun ‘cat’.

Download Exercise

Possessives constitute another group of specific determiners. ‘My’, ‘your’ (singular and plural) ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘our’, and’their’ all refer to specific nouns. If I say ‘this is my bag’, you know exactly what I am talking about.

General determiners are used when we talk about things in general. If we are talking about a general idea we can use an uncountable noun, or a plural noun with no determiner, e.g. ‘water is good for you’ or ‘men are stronger than boys’. We do NOT say ‘the water’ or ‘the men/boys’, as this would indicate specific water or men/boys.

We can also use a singular noun with the indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’ when we don’t need or are unable to mention the name of the thing we are talking about. For example, in the sentence ‘a man was seen breaking into the bank’, it is likely we do not know the identity of the man brekaing into the bank: maybe he got away without being arrested. In the sentence ‘a woman was attacked last Saturday’ we don’t mention the woman’s name in order to protect her identity.

Another general determiner is the word ‘any’, which we use when we talk about all the possible instances of a thing or person, e.g. ‘any child can learn to smile’. We are emphasising the generality of this ability.

Finally, the word ‘another’ is used to talk about an additional person or thing: ‘let’s have another drink’. this means one drink. The plural of ‘another’ is ‘other’: ‘there are other bars in this town’ (plural) rather than ‘there is another bar in this town’ (singular).

Take our test to see how you manage using determiners.

We also use ‘in’ to say how long it takes to do something – ‘I will pass the exam in a month’s time’.

Take our test to see how much you understand about prepositions relating to days and dates.

A. Porter

Download Exercise