Introduction to Distributives in English Grammar

Distributives are words that help express divided or shared aspects of ideas, people or things. They let us talk about distributing things evenly, unevenly or one at a time. A distributive functions as a kind of determiner. It’s used with a singular noun and a singular verb.

Common Distributives

Several words function as Distributives and each of them is distinct in meaning, although they can often be used interchangeably depending on the context. They include: each, every, either, neither and any.

Uses and Examples of Different Distributives


The distributive "each" refers to every one of two or more items, individually. It is also often used with a singular noun.

  • Example: I gave each student an apple.
  • Example: They each have their own locker.
  • Every

    The distributive "every" refers to all members of a group and is used with singular nouns. It is usually used when the group has more than three members.

  • Example: Every person in the room agreed with him.
  • Example: I go to the gym every day.
  • Either

    "Either" is used when you are talking about a choice between two items. It is often followed by "or".

  • Example: You can either study now or later.
  • Example: I could either walk to work or take the bus.
  • Neither

    "Neither" is used when not one of the two items or cases is true. It is often followed by "nor".

  • Example: Neither Mike nor John was able to solve the problem.
  • Example: I have neither time nor money for shopping.
  • Any

    "Any" is used when the exact selection does not matter and can be any single member of the group. We use this distributive usually in questions and negative statements.

  • Example: I don't have any children.
  • Example: Do you have any suggestions?
  • Rules Guiding the Use of Distributives

    When to Use Each vs Every

    Even though both ‘each’ and ‘every’ refer to all members of a group, they are used slightly differently. 'Each' is typically used when you are considering individuals separately within a group or a collection of items, whereas 'every' is used when considering the group as a whole. For instance:

  • Example: John shook hands with each member of the team. (He shook hands with them one by one.)
  • Example: Every member of the team shook hands with John. (They all shook hands with him at once.)
  • Using Either and Neither

    'Either' should only be used when you are referring to one of two items or choices, whereas 'neither' should be used when you’re talking about two things, both of which are not true. Here are some examples:

  • Example: You can either go for a walk or read a book. (You have two options.)
  • Example: Neither my sister nor my brother likes football. (None of them likes football.)
  • The Use of Any

    'Any' is often used with singular countable nouns in questions and negative statements. It is also used with both countable and uncountable nouns, often in the context of offers and requests, as well as with positive sentences.

  • Example: Do you know any good restaurants in town? (Question)
  • Example: I don’t have any time to spend with you. (Negative statement)
  • Example: You can ask any question you have. (Positive statement)
  • Conclusion

    Distributives in English grammar are a fundamental component that aid in clear expression, particularly when it comes to indicating division, shares, or selectiveness. Grasping their usage immensely boosts communication skills.

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