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!

The 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.Dog balancing treats on is nose

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


Chocolate shop(chocolate)

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?