Distributives

Distributives are determiners that indicate divided groups of people. In this lesson, we will learn uses, grammatical rules, and more.

Distributives in the English Grammar

What Are Distributives?

Distributives are a type of determiners that tell how people or things are divided or shared or distributed within a group.

The Common Distributives

The most common distributives in English are:

  • both
  • either
  • neither
  • every
  • each
  • all
  • no
  • none of

Tip!

Distributives are placed before the noun or noun phrase they are modifying.

Referring to Two People or Things

The distributives 'both,' 'neither' and 'either' always refer to two things or people.

Both

'Both' refers to all the members of a pair and is equivalent to 'one and the other.'
'Both' is always used with plural nouns.

Both women were beautiful. (Not 'Both woman were beautiful.')

Hold it in both hands.

Both as a Pre-determiner

When 'both' is used before a determiner (as a pre-determiner), we must use 'both' or 'both of.' Look at the examples:

I loved both my children. = I loved both of my children.

Both the restaurants serve delicious food. = Both of the restaurants serve delicious food.

Both as an Appositive Pronoun

The pronoun both can be used as an emphatic pronoun. When the pronoun both is used to repeat or emphasize particular information it is used as an appositive pronoun.

We both come from Iran.

I want them both to come.

Here, 'both' comes after an auxiliary verb or the verb 'be,' but comes before other main verbs.

We are both thirsty.

We both want to drink coffee.

Tip!

When 'both' is used after a pronoun, you should place 'of' between them:

Both of them loved her. (Not 'Both them loved her.')

Both of us decided to buy that car.

Both as a Pronoun

'Both' can be used as a pronoun, without any noun(s) or other determiners with it:

Would you like milk or sugar or both?

Both are described as beautiful and expensive.

Warning

Both is not usually used in negative clauses. In negative clauses that refer to two things or people, use 'neither.'

"both" as a distributive determiner

Neither

'Neither' is the opposite of 'both.' It refers to the distribution between two things but has a negative meaning.

'Neither' means 'not one and not the other' and is used before singular nouns.

Neither restaurant serves good food.

It was a game in which neither contestant tried to win.

Neither as a Pronoun Followed by of

The pronoun neither can be followed by the preposition of. In this case, a partitive structure is formed which can be used as pre-determiner.

Neither of the restaurants served good food. (with plural noun with article)

Neither of my friends knew how to cook. (with plural noun with possessive pronoun)

Neither as a Pronoun

'Neither' can be used as a pronoun, without any noun(s) or other determiners with it:

'Would you like sugar or milk?' 'Neither, thanks.'

I have two phones, but neither works properly.

Tip!

We can use 'neither of' before a plural noun or pronoun. In formal speech and in writing, use a singular verb:

Neither of the cakes was chocolate.

In speech and informal writing, we can use a plural verb:

Neither of the cakes were chocolate.

Neither ... Nor as Pre-determiner

Neither and nor can be used as pre-determiners before a head noun. We can combine 'neither' with 'nor' to connect two things or people. It means 'not this one and not that one.' It is used in negative sentences and is very formal.

I like neither sugar nor milk in my coffee.

In more informal conversation, it is better to say 'I don't like sugar or milk in my coffee.'

Either

'Either' is positive, 'neither' is negative. 'Either' is used before singular nouns to mean 'one or the other.'

'Either' goes with a singular verb.

I don't like either book very much.

Either answer is correct.

Either as a Pre-determiner

If we have an object pronoun or a plural noun with a determiner, we must use 'either of.'

Either of the restaurants served good food. (with plural noun with article)

I didn't like either of these books. (with plural noun with demonstrative pronoun)

Either as a Pronoun

'Either' can be used as a pronoun, without any noun(s) or other determiners with it:

'Which do you prefer?' 'Either.'

There's sugar or milk – you can have either.

Either ... Or

We can combine 'either' with 'or' to connect two things or people. 'Either ... or' represents a choice between two possibilities.

Add either three or four cloves of garlic.

Referring to Three or More Things/People

The distributives 'all,' 'each' and 'every' refer to three or more things or people.

All

'All' refers to three or more people or things. 'All' is used with plural and uncountable nouns. It means 'the whole number or amount' of people or things considered as a group.

All schools are closed on Fridays.

I love all music.

All as a Pre-determiner

When we have a noun with a determiner, we can use 'all' or 'all of.' But, before pronouns, only 'all of' is allowed.

All the children are playing and dancing. = All of the children are playing and dancing.

All as a Pronoun

'All' can be used as a pronoun, without any noun(s) or other determiners with it:

All I'm asking for is a little respect.

I'm doing all I can to help you.

Each as a Pre-determiner

'Each' is used to refer to 'all' when referring to three or more things or people. We use 'each' with singular nouns. It is used to emphasize all individuals or items within a group.

Each item was thoroughly checked.

Each student is given his own locker.

I told each of my parents individually. (noun with a possessive pronoun)

Each as a Pronoun

We use 'each' as a pronoun followed by of before object of prepositions.

We can find something for each of us.

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