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 words or phrases that are used to refer to individual members of a group or to distribute an action or quality across the members of a group.

Common Distributives

The most common distributives in English are:

Tip!

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

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. For example:

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 can use it with or without the preposition '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

Both can also be used as an emphatic pronoun. When 'both' is used to repeat or emphasize specific information, it is used as an appositive pronoun.

We both come from Iran.

I want them both to come.

In this structure, 'both' comes after an auxiliary verb or the verb 'be', and before other main verbs. Pay attention to the examples:

We are both thirsty.

We both want to drink coffee.

Tip!

When 'both' is used before a pronoun, it should be followed by the preposition 'of'. 'Both of' is an example of a partitive.

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 following 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, 'neither' is used.

'both' as a distributive determiner

Neither

'Neither' is the opposite of 'both' and is used to express a negative distribution between two things. It means 'not one and not the other' and is typically used before singular nouns. For example:

Neither restaurant serves good food.

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

Neither Followed by 'Of'

'Neither' can be followed by the preposition 'of'. In this case, a partitive structure is formed. Pay attention to the examples:

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

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

Neither as a Pronoun

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

'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 writing a singular verb is used with it. For example:

Neither of the cakes was chocolate.

However, in informal speech and 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. When used together, 'neither' and 'nor' connect two things or people and mean 'not this one and not that one'. This construction is typically used in negative sentences and is considered formal. Take a look at the example:

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 a positive term that offers a choice between two options, while 'neither' is a negative term that indicates that neither option is chosen. 'Either' is typically used before singular nouns to mean 'one or the other'.
'Either' is typically followed by a singular verb, regardless of whether the noun it modifies is singular or plural. Pay attention to the examples:

I don't like either book very much.

Either answer is correct.

Either Followed by 'Of'

When using an object pronoun or a plural noun with a determiner, we must use the construction 'either of' to refer to one of two options. For example:

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

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

Either as a Pronoun

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

'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. For example:

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. For example:

All schools are closed on Sundays.

I love all music.

All as a Pre-determiner

When using a noun with a determiner, we can use 'all' or 'all of'. However, when using a pronoun, only 'all of' is allowed. For example:

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:

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 individuals or items within a group when there are three or more things or people. It is typically used with singular nouns to emphasize the individuality of each item or person. For example:

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 can also use 'each' as a pronoun.

We can find something for each.

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