Distributives

Distributive determiners refer to a group of people or things, and to individual members of the group. They show different ways of looking at the individuals within a group, and they express how something is distributed, shared, or divided.

Using “each” and “every”

Each is a way of seeing the members of a group as individuals, while every is a way of seeing a group as a series of members. These distributives can only be used with countable nouns. They are normally used with singular nouns, and are placed before the noun. In many cases, they are interchangeable.

Examples

  • Each child received a present.
  • Every child received a present.
  • I gave each plant some water.
  • I gave every plant some water.

Each can also be used with plural nouns and pronouns but must be followed by ‘of’. Every cannot be used with plural nouns.

Examples

  • Each of the children received a present.
  • I gave each of the plants some water.
  • He told each of us our jobs.
  • I gave each of them a kiss.

Every can express different points in a series, especially with time expressions. Each works in the same way, but is less common.

Examples

  • Every morning John goes jogging.
  • This magazine is published every week.
  • I have my coffee here every day.
  • I go visit my mother each week.
  • Each Monday, he buys a kilo of apples.

Using “all” as a distributive

The distributive determiner all is used to talk about a whole group, with a special emphasis on the fact that nothing has been left out. All can be used as a distributive in several different patterns.

All can be used with uncountable nouns and plural countable nouns by itself. In this usage, it refers to the group as a concept rather than as individuals.

Examples

  • All cheese contains protein.
  • I like all dogs.
  • All children need affection.
  • This soap is for all purposes.

All can be used with uncountable nouns and plural countable nouns preceeded by the or a possessive adjective. In this case, the meaning is shifted towards referring to a concrete, physical group rather than the group as a concept. In these uses, the word of can be added just after all with no change in meaning.

Examples

  • All the people in the room were silent.
  • All of the birds flew away.
  • Have you eaten all the bread?
  • I will need all of the sugar.
  • I’ve invited all my friends to the party.
  • I’ve used up all of our eggs.
  • You wasted all your time.

All can be used with plural pronouns preceeded by of.

Examples

  • All of us are going.
  • He scolded all of you.
  • Did you find all of them?

All can be used in questions and exclamations with uncountable nouns preceeded by this or that. In these uses, the word of can be added just after all with no change in meaning.

Examples

  • Who has left all this paper on my desk?
  • Look at all this snow!
  • Why is all of that sugar on the floor?
  • Where did all of this confetti come from?

All can be used in questions and exclamations with countable nouns preceeded by these or those. In these uses, the word of can be added just after all with no change in meaning.

Examples

  • Look at all those balloons!
  • Where did all of those books come from?
  • Why are all these children crying?

Using “half” as a distributive

The distributive determiner half is used to talk about a whole group divided in two. Half can be used as a distributive in several different patterns. Other fractions can be used in the same patterns, although they are less frequent.

Half can be used with measurements preceeded by an indefinite article (a or an). In this usage, it refers to a measurement.

Examples

  • I had half a cup of milk left.
  • I bought half a kilo of flour.
  • He ran half a mile this morning.
  • I will be back in half a minute.

Half can be used with nouns preceeded by the, a, a demonstrative, or a possessive adjective. In this case, the meaning refers to a concrete, physical division. The word of can be added just after half with no change in meaning.

Examples

  • Half the people have already left.
  • Half of an apple isn’t very much lunch.
  • Did you use half my sugar?
  • I will need half of the flour for my cake.
  • I earned half of that money last summer.
  • She found half these frogs in the river.
  • I spent half that time on my project.
  • You can take half of those books back.
  • I’ve invited half my friends to the party.
  • I’ve used up half of our eggs.
  • You wasted half your money on that!

Half can be used with plural pronouns preceeded by of.

Examples

  • Half of us are going.
  • He scolded half of you but he let the rest off.
  • You couldn’t find half of them?

Distributives for pairs of objects

The distributive determiners both, either and neither are concerned with distribution between a pair of objects. Normally, these words cannot be used to refer to a group of three or more individuals. They also cannot be used to refer to a group of indefinite size. These distributives can only refer to countable nouns.

 

Using “both”

Both refers to the whole pair and is equivalent to “one and the other”. Both can be used with plural nouns on its own, or it can be followed by “of”, with or without an article. When followed by a plural pronoun, both must be separated from the pronoun by “of”. Both cannot be used with singular nouns, because it refers to two things.

Examples

  • Both children were born in Italy.
  • Both the children were born in Italy.
  • Both of the children were born in Italy.
  • Both my parents have fair hair.
  • Both of my parents have fair hair.
  • Both of us like skiing.
  • I told both of them to calm down.

Using “either”

Either is positive and when used alone, refers to one of the two members of the pair. It is equivalent to “one or the other”. Because it refers to just one member of a pair, either must be used before a singular noun. It can also be used with a plural noun or pronoun if followed by “of”.

Examples

  • I can stay at either hotel.
  • Either day is fine for me.
  • There are two chairs here. You can take either of them.
  • Either of you can come.
  • Either of the hotels will be fine.
  • I can eat either of the salads.

Either can also be used with or in a construction that talks about each member of the pair in turn. The meaning remains the same, but in this case either is not functioning as a distributive. It is functioning as a conjunction.

Examples

  • You can have either ice cream or chocolate cake.
  • I will come on either Thursday or Friday.
  • You can either come inside or put on your raincoat.

Using “neither”

Neither is negative and when used alone, refers to the whole pair. It is equivalent to “not one or the other”. Because it refers to just one member of a pair, neither must be used before a singular noun. It can also be used with a plural noun or pronoun if followed by “of”.

Examples

  • Neither chair is any good.
  • Neither brother came.
  • Which bag do you want? Neither of them.
  • Neither of us were on time.
  • I think neither of these dresses fits me.
  • Neither of the children wanted to go.

Neither can also be used with nor in a construction that talks about each member of the pair in turn. The meaning remains the same, but in this case neither is not functioning as a distributive. It is functioning as a conjunction.

Examples

  • You can have neither cookies nor candy.
  • It is neither raining nor snowing.
  • She is neither tall nor short.

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