Non-Count Nouns: When should we use “the”?

When should we use “the” with a non-count noun?

earth-water-globe-non-count-noun-english-eslWater is a non-count noun. When we are speaking of water (or any non-count noun) in general, we do not use an article.
  • Water covers most of the surface of the earth.
  • The scientific notation for water is H20.

However, if we are identifying specific water (or any non-count noun), then we precede it with “the.”


  • The water in this glass looks disgusting!
  • I would never drink the water that he is holding!

Two common ways of making a noun specific are by following it with a prepositional phrase (“in this glass”) or with an adjective clause (“that he is holding”).

In the above examples, the non-count noun is something we can see or touch. Often, however, non-count nouns are emotions or ideas. When discussing abstract nouns, we follow the same article rules.

fear-afraid-scream-woman-face-lady-yell-english-esl-non-countFor example, “fear” is an abstract noun. It is an emotion—an invisible thing.

General Statements:

  • Fear is a common emotion.
  • We feel fear in many situations.

Specific Statements:

  • I will never forget the fear on her face when she saw a spider in her bed.
  • The fear that she showed was spectacular!

Dog balancing treats on is noseThe word “patience” is another example of an abstract noun. It is a quality—something we cannot touch.

General Statements:

  • Patience brings reward.
  • We all must learn patience.

Specific Statements:

  • The patience of this dog is amazing.
  • I admire the patience that he is showing.

Now You Try! First write two general statements and then two specific statements for each of the suggested non-count nouns.


Chocolate shop(chocolates)

Possible answers:


  • Power allows you to make changes in the world.
  • We all crave power.
  • The power of the President is limited by the Legislature and the Judiciary.
  • The power that political leaders wield can be used for good or ill.


  • Chocolate is so delicious!
  • I eat chocolate every day.
  • The chocolate she brought came from Switzerland.
  • Did you put the chocolate back in the cupboard?