Referring To Nouns –
Articles, Demonstratives, Possessives, Inclusives
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.
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
‘this, that, these, those’
We use these words to show whether something is near or remote, in terms of time or place:
|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.
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)
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
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.