I heard this phrase once: "He was driving slowly to save fuel." However it says about some particular fuel, which is in the tank, so using the definite article would be more logical. Why the article was omitted here?

3 Answers 3


A particular definition of 'save' is "to prevent things from being wasted", and with regard to that definition, there is no need to put an article in front of the noun as 'fuel' is being referred to generally. The same applies to money, time and effort, that is, they are all general terms that isn't bound to a single entity. However, if you really want to specifically (and unnecessarily) denote that it's your fuel you want to save, you can say something like "I was driving to save the fuel in my car."

Another reason you wouldn't use the definite article is that it has nothing to refer back to.

"I drove slowly to save the fuel."

"What fuel?"

"Oh, I mean the fuel in my car."

"Oh okay."

  • Uhh I see, so you maintain that when we say "save fuel" by fuel we mean, in basic English, all the liquid in the world? And that by saving fuel we just make a contribution to saving "general" fuel?
    – Rusty
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 15:08
  • And I find this particularly interesting as you're probably a native speaker: why did you omit "the" before "definite article" in your answer?:)
    – Rusty
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 15:14
  • Sorry, just a typing error. And regarding your other comment, I'd say that's a reasonable interpretation. No need to overthink this, just remember that 'to save fuel' considers fuel in general.
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 8:26
  • 1
    I see, only I do need to overthink that since, I'm sure, there's a lot of such word combinations in English. For example, I can be easily puzzled, whether to put the article in the phrase "to keep gas", only to find out later on that it actually has the same meaning as the former. So I really need to get to the bottom of this;)
    – Rusty
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 16:29

He's trying to save fuel as a general concept. Yes, the specific fuel is the one that is in his gas tank at the moment, but that's so obvious from context that there's no particular need to point it out; it's not like he could be saving someone else's fuel. Saying the fuel implies that we're particularly concerned about this exact, specific fuel, but we're not - fuel is interchangeable.


He was driving slowly to save fuel

This would be the typical way to express that idea. In this case, "fuel" is used as a mass noun. Note that with this sentence, fuel is still being used, but he is reducing how much (thus saving some of it).

He was driving slowly to save the fuel

This would be less likely as-is. While there is specific fuel in the tank, this would only likely be used if there had been some particular fuel referenced that was being saved:

He was driving slowly to save the fuel in the tank

  • Additional example: the supply of fuel is limited to what you have. Say you're driving across the desert and there won't be a gas station for a long time. "Save the fuel" would refer to the fuel in your possession, the only fuel there is.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 22:15
  • @fixer1234 Even in that type of case, "save fuel" would be likely. You might see "save the fuel" if there is a specific unit of fuel, e.g. "I'm saving the fuel for when it gets cold"
    – eques
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 15:44

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