A distributive determiner is used to refer to each element or individual of a group or class, and not to a group or class collectively. The distributives used here are a, an, both, each, every, either, and neither.
A and an
The indefinite articles a and an are used when a person or thing is mentioned for the first time.
- A man approached us to ask for direction.
- In the still of the night, we could hear an owl hooting in the distance.
The word both refers to the two items that make up a pair, and therefore cannot be used before a singular noun. It is followed by a plural noun.
- Both sisters fell in love with the same man.
- It was reported that both countries also signed a trade agreement.
Each and every
These two words have about the same meaning.
Each is used when it is used to refer to people or things seen as separate individuals, and every to mean everyone that together make up a group.
Each is used to refer to people or things seen as separate individuals, and every to mean each one that together make up a group.
- She wears a ring on each finger except the thumbs.
- The victims identified every member of the armed gang who took part in the robbery.
Each and every are used only before a singular countable noun.
- Police questioned each member of the family for possible involvement in the murder.
- The head of every household must fill out the form.
Each and every are used to mean more than two.
- Each member at the meeting received a copy of the report.
- Every player must attend the training sessions for the next crucial match.
Each can be used to mean two and every to mean three or more.
- Each player in the singles final has a different style of play. (= two players)
- There were cars parked along the sides of every street in town. (= all the streets)
Every can be used with uncountable nouns..
- He gave me every advice before I went for the climb.
Either and neither
The distributive determiners either and neither refer to two people or things and not more. Either and neither are used before a singular noun as each of them refers to one item of a pair.
- Either parent will drive the children to the library.
(One or the other of the two parents will drive.)
- He received injuries on either side of his head from a fight.
(Injuries received on both sides of his head.)
- Neither boxer was able to knock the other out.
(Not one or the other of two boxers could knock the other out.)
- Neither one of them would give in until the other apologized.
(Not the one and not the other of the two people would give in.)