Referring To Nouns

by | Apr 1, 2020 | Grammar For IELTS

Referring To Nouns

Articles, Demonstratives, Possessives,  Inclusives

1. Articles


We use a/an

a. to refer to something for the first time.

  • I’d like to talk to you today about an exciting development.

b. to refer to anyone from a group of several:

  • Climate protection is a challenge for our entire society. (one of many challenges)

c. to classify people or things as belonging to a group:

  • Envisat is a fully-equipped observation satellite. (there are different kinds of satellite)

d. to say what job somebody does:

  • My brother is an engineer.

NOTE: We can only use a/an with singular countable nouns.


We use the

a. when the listener/reader knows which thing we mean (it may have been mentioned before):

  • Envisat is a fully-equipped observation satellite … The satellite was launched in 2002.

or it is understood which thing we mean:

  • As part of the conference on environmental awareness … (we are at the conference now so it is clear which one I mean)


  • I went to a conference on Environmental awareness last week. (the person I am talking to does not know which conference I am talking about)

b. when there is only one of this thing:

the earth, the sun, the twentieth century, the sixties, the Government, the Prime Minister (there is only one government and one prime minister in each country)

c. for superlatives:

  • It is equipped with the best eyes possible.

d. to talk about playing a musical instrument:

  • He plays the piano and she plays the guitar.

e. with certain proper nouns:

  • nationalities (the British, the Chinese, the Egyptians)
  • rivers (the Thames, the Yangtze, the Nile)
  • island groups (the Maldives, the Philippines, the Seychelles)
  • mountain ranges (the Alps, the Himalayas)
  • seas and oceans (the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Pacific)
  • country names that represent a group (the United Kingdom, the United States of America)
  • many Famous/historical buildings (the White House)
  • noun phrases with of (the Great Wall of China, the Temple of Heaven)

NOTE: With university names we can say the University of Bath or Bath University.

‘No article’

We use no article

a. with plural or uncountable nouns to talk generally about things:

  • It will deliver information about our changing environment.
  • It offers everything that scientists could wish for. (scientists in general not a specific group of scientists)

b. with certain proper nouns:

  • continents (Europe, Asia)
  • countries (Australia, China)
  • states or counties (Michigan, Cambridgeshire)
  • towns and cities (Tokyo, Jeddah)
  • mountains (Everest, Kilimanjaro)
  • lakes (Lake Superior)
  • companies (Microsoft, Sony)
  • buildings and places with the name of a town (Heathrow Airport)

c. with mealtimes:

  • I have lunch at 12.30.

d. in common expressions after prepositions:

  • to/at school/university; to/in class; in prison/hospital/bed

NOTE: We can use the/a if we want to be specific.


  • When I was a child I used to walk to school.
  • When I was a child I went to the school on the other side of town.

NOTE: However, we cannot use an article with the following expressions:

  • at home; at/to work; at night; by bus/bicycle/car/train/plane; on foot

2. Demonstratives:

‘this, that, these, those’

We use these words to show whether something is near or remote, in terms of time or place:

Near Remote
Time I’d like to talk to you this morning about an exciting development. (today) My mother called me later that day. (I am telling you this on a different day)
Place I like these pictures. (here) Oh, I prefer those

 pictures. (over there)

a. We can use this/that/these/those to refer back to something previously mentioned in the text:

  • The total cost of the Envisat programme is 2.3 billion euros over 15 years. Included in this sum … (this sum = 2.3 billion euros)

b. We can refer back to whole sentences or ideas with this and that:

  • Seeing the earth from outer space highlights how tiny and fragile our planet is. Envisat helps people to understand that.(= understand how tiny and fragile our planet is)

NOTE: There is often very little difference between this and that when used in this way, so we could say:

  • Envisat helps people to understand this.

3. Possessives

a. We use possessive determiners (my/your/his/her/its/our/their) to tell us what or who something belongs to:

  • our blue planet; their children

NOTE: We cannot use possessive determiners after other determiners (e.g. a, the). We use determiner + noun + of + possessive pronoun:

  • this planet of ours (not this our planet).

b. We use ‘s with singular nouns and irregular plural nouns. We use s’ after regular plural nouns:

  • Europe’s technological showpiece; the children’s toys; my parents’ house

c. We usually use noun + of instead of ‘s when the thing we are referring to is not a person or animal:

  • the price of the hotel (not the hotel’s price)

4. Inclusives

‘each, every’

Each and every are used with a singular noun and verb.

a. Each is used for things or people in a group of two or more, with a focus on the individuals in the group:

  • Each European citizen has therefore invested seven euros in the environment.

b. Every is used for three or more things, with a focus on the group. Often the difference in focus between each and every is very small:

  • Every citizen will have access to precise information about changes in the environment (=Each citizen …)

c. We can use each (but not every) + of + noun/pronoun:

  • Each of the students gave the teacher a present. (not every of the students)

‘all, most, some’

a. We use all/most/some + plural noun and verb to talk about things in general:

  • Most children like sweets.
  • Some people believe space exploration is a waste of money.

b. We use all/most/some + of + pronoun or determiner + noun or to refer to a specific group:

  • Most of the children at my school play football.

NOTE: We do not need to use all + of before a noun, but we need of before a pronoun:

  • All the children at my school play a musical instrument.
  • All of them like music. (not all them)

NOTE: When all is followed by a singular noun referring to time, the meaning is different. Compare:

  • I worked hard all day. (= I worked hard for one whole day)
  • I worked hard every day. (= I regularly worked hard)

‘Both, neither, either, none’

Both, neither and either refer to two people or things. We use both + plural noun and either/neither + singular noun:

  • Both satellites were launched in the 1990s.
  • Neither person knew very much about Envisat before the conference. (= not one or the other)
  • I don’t mind where we go. Either restaurant is fine. (= one or the other is fine)

NOTE: We use both + of + determiner + plural noun (or pronoun) with a plural verb. We can use either/neither + of + determiner + plural noun (or pronoun) with a singular or a plural verb:

  • Neither of my sisters lives/live in the same town as me.
  • Both of them are married. (not Both of them is married)

None means ‘not one’ (of a group). It can be followed by a singular or plural verb:

  • None of our countries is/are able to ignore the implications of global warming.

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