Site-wide links

Specific Versus General

Recall that count and non-count nouns may be "specific" or "general." A noun is specific when the writer wishes to talk about some thing or things in particular. A noun is general when the writer wishes to make a generalization about some thing or things.

Read each sentence below. If you think that the highlighted noun is specific, click SPECIFIC. If you think that the highlighted noun is general, click GENERAL.

1. Not everyone can be successful in business. SPECIFIC  GENERAL
Specific: INCORRECT
GENERAL: CORRECT! business refers to business in general, not to a particular business.

2. How much was the stock you bought. SPECIFIC  GENERAL
SPECIFIC: CORRECT! stock refers to the particular stock you bought yesterday.
GENERAL: INCORRECT.

3. My roommate is taking five courses this semester. SPECIFIC  GENERAL
SPECIFIC: CORRECT! The roommate is taking five particular courses (even though we may not know the titles of the courses).
GENERAL: INCORRECT.

4. Law school is expensive. SPECIFIC  GENERAL
SPECIFIC: INCORRECT.
GENERAL: CORRECT! The writer is making a generalization about any law school.

5. The graduation requirements at this college are very strict. SPECIFIC  GENERAL
SPECIFIC: CORRECT! The writer is referring to the particular requirements of this college.
GENERAL: INCORRECT.

6. Biology is the study of living things. SPECIFIC  GENERAL
SPECIFIC: INCORRECT.
GENERAL: CORRECT! The writer is referring to all living things.

7. Biology is the study of living things. SPECIFIC  GENERAL
SPECIFIC: INCORRECT.
GENERAL: CORRECT! The writer is referring to all living things.

8. The College of Engineering just hired a new faculty member. SPECIFIC  GENERAL
SPECIFIC: CORRECT! member refers to a particular person.
GENERAL: INCORRECT.

9. Mike got his degree in accounting. SPECIFIC  GENERAL
SPECIFIC: CORRECT! degree refers to the particular degree that Mike got.
GENERAL: INCORRECT.

10. Most students think that grades are important? SPECIFIC  GENERAL
SPECIFIC: INCORRECT.
GENERAL: CORRECT! grades refers generically to any and all grades.

11. Most colleges require English Composition. SPECIFIC  GENERAL
SPECIFIC: INCORRECT.
GENERAL: CORRECT! The writer is referring in general to the majority of colleges, not to any specific college or colleges.