Unit 70. Plural and uncountable nouns with and without the (flowers/the flowers)

We don’t use the before a noun when we mean something in general:

  • I love flowers, (not the flowers)

    (flowers = flowers in general, not a particular group of flowers)

  • I’m afraid of dogs.

  • Doctors are paid more than teachers.

  • Crime is a problem in most big cities, (not the crime)

  • Life has changed a lot since I was young, (not the life)

  • I prefer classical music to pop music, (not the classical/pop music)

  • Do you like Chinese food / American television? (not the .. .)

  • My favorite subject at school was history/physics/English.

  • I like soccer/athletics/skiing/chess.

  • Do you collect stamps?

    We say most people / most dogs, etc. (not the most. ..):

  • Most people like George, (not the most people – see also Unit 78)

    We say the… when we mean something in particular:

  • I like your garden. The flowers are beautiful, (not Flowers are …) (the flowers = the flowers in your garden, not flowers in general)

  • Children learn a lot from playing. (= children in general)

    but: We took the children to the zoo. (= a particular group of children, perhaps the speaker’s own children)

  • Salt is used to flavor food.

    but: Can you pass the salt, please? (= the salt on the table)

  • I often listen to music.

    but: The movie wasn’t very good, but I liked the music. (= the music in the movie)

  • All cars have wheels.

    but: All the students in the class like their teacher.

  • Are American people friendly? (= American people in general)

    but: Are the American people you know friendly? (= only the American people you know, not American people in general)

    The difference between “something in general” and “something in particular” is not always very clear. Study these sentences:

  • I like working with people. (= people in general)

  • I like working with people who are lively, (not all people, but people who are lively is still a general idea)

    but: I like the people I work with. (= a particular group of people)

  • Do you like coffee? (= coffee in general)

  • Do you like strong black coffee? (not all coffee, but strong black coffee is still a general idea) but: Did you like the coffee we had after dinner? (= particular coffee)
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