What Are Distributive Adjectives? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 25, 2023

Do you want to learn more about distributive adjectives? We can help with that! This article will teach you everything you need to know about them and how to use them correctly in your writing.

In short:

  • Distributive adjectives are words that modify nouns by individualizing them.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Distributive Adjectives?

Distributive adjectives, just like all adjectives, modify nouns. But what they specifically do is help individualize items in a group so that instead of referring to a group, you're referring to single items.

Here's a list of the distributive adjectives:

  • each
  • every
  • either
  • neither
  • any
  • both

Here are a couple of examples that will illustrate the role of these types of adjectives:

Meals are provided at the homeless shelter.

Each person wll receive a meal at the homeless shelter.

You may think these two sentences may seem very similar, and they are. But the second sentence is more specific in that it makes it clear that everyone will receive a meal. The first sentence is a little more general in that we only know that food is provided; we don't know how it will be divided, how many meals each person will receive, or if there'll even be enough for everyone.

What Do They Mean?

Although they all serve a similar purpose, each of these adjectives has a different meaning. Let's have a look at these a little more closely.


Use the word 'each' to single out individual parts of a group as part of a whole.

Each band member provides their own instrument.

 I want to talk to each student separately.

Each person will need to pay $40.


'Every' is used to refer to all the parts of a group.

Every person here is a fan of The Beatles.

We need to interview every candidate before we can make a decision.

You have to make sure she has food and fresh cold water every day.


A sentence that uses 'both' puts emphasis on two members of a group and shows that they are both included.

I want to buy both books.

Both options are appealing.

I can't believe he broke both his feet.  


'Either' introduces a choice between two parts of a group.

If you want to have lunch now we can have either leftovers or go out.

Either option is fine by me.

Confusingly, 'either' can also be synonymous with 'both.'

There are street lights on either side of the road.


Similarly to 'either,' 'neither' introduces a choice between two parts of a group, but it actually means the opposite. While 'either' means that both options are possible, 'neither' means that none of the two options are possible.

It was neither boy's business.

I want to see you neither of you getting hurt.

It seems like neither man wants to take the first step.


'Any' offers a choice, just like 'either,' but it doesn't provide any options. It means that all members of the group are a viable option.

Are there any poets in the house?

Any child can answer that question.

Ask any doctor; they'll all tell you the same thing I just did.

How to Use Distributive Adjectives

The main thing to know about distributive adjectives when you use them in a sentence is that they should be placed before the noun they modify. There's nothing new there; that's where all adjectives go.

But what happens if you want to use another type of adjective as well as the distributive one?

  • The answer is that the distributive adjective comes first. They can be combined with many kinds of adjectives; descriptive adjectives are one example.

Here's a sentence that combines the two types:

Each little piece came together to form a beautiful puzzle.

Here, we have the distributive adjective 'each' combined with the descriptive adjective 'little.' Notice how 'each' comes first.

  • The other thing to note about distributive adjectives is that they all modify singular nouns. Well, all except one: 'both.'

This makes sense if you remember that the role of a distributive adjective is to single out an item in a group. So even though it might seem like you're talking about several things, you're actually talking about one thing.

Look at the following sentences and notice how the noun is singular:

They've made enough muffins for each child.

I try to stretch every morning.

Neither flower is growing.

And now some sentences with 'both,' and its plural noun:

Both restaurants have received positive reviews.

There's a meat dish and a vegetarian one; please help yourself to both dishes.

Both houses are the same price.

Adjectives vs Pronouns

There's also such a thing as distributive pronouns, and these shouldn't be confused with distributive adjectives because they perform a different function altogether. They both look exactly the same, but what makes them different is the role they perform in the sentence.

  • As you may know, pronouns are words that help you avoid repetition throughout your sentences by replacing nouns.
  • Adjectives, though, as we saw earlier, modify nouns. 

Here is an example of a distributive pronoun in a sentence:

Either will be fine.

Here, the word 'either' replaces a noun. The previous sentence might have been something like, "Would you like a window seat or an aisle seat?"

  • Pronouns don't precede a noun because they replace it. That's why you'll see a verb after a pronoun instead of a noun.

Here is another example, along with a potential sentence that might have preceded it:

I'm not sure whether to choose the soup of the day or the chef's specialty.
Both sound delicious.

Other types of adjectives can be combined with distributives, but you might need to use a proposition like 'of' to connect them.

Take a look at the following sentence:

Each of my cars has been named after a famous singer.

This is an example of a distributive adjective combined with a possessive adjective, but they are connected by the proposition 'of.' Here's another example. This one combines a distributive with the quantitative adjective 'two,' and the conjunction 'of' and the definite article 'the' to connect them.

Neither of the two seems like a good option to me.

Concluding Thoughts on Distributive Adjectives

That concludes today's article. I hope you found it helpful and feel you understand distributive adjectives better and feel confident about using them in your writing.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Distributive adjectives single out items in a group so that you can talk about them individually.
  • They are 'each,' 'every,' 'either,' 'neither,' 'any,' and 'both.'
  • You should place them before the noun they modify.
  • All distributive adjectives except 'both' modify singular nouns.
  • Don't confuse distributive adjectives with distributive pronouns, which replace nouns.

Check out our Grammar Book. It's a free online database full of articles that explain grammar topics in a simple, easy-to-understand way, just like this one.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.