Nuoc Mia - delicious Vietnamese sugarcane water

What does “nước” mean in Vietnamese?

Photo credit: Lyn Nga @

Nước (nyuck; up-tone) – Water (or other very liquidy things)
Nước – Countries

Nước is a classic overloaded Vietnamese word that means anything liquidy, from clean drinking water (nước), to the soup that comes with noodles (nước dùng), as well as the dipping sauce that comes with rice-cakes (Bánh hỏi ). As a traveller in Vietnam, you will encounter a lot of nước, so it is useful to familiarize yourself with its multiple meanings.

First of all, there are signs emblazed with “Nước” all over the streets of Vietnam, selling juice and drinks — such juice-stands seem to be one of the most popular side-hustles. In particular, look for the popular sugar-cane juice (nước mía).

There is almost always a woman on the street selling freshly-squeezed sugar-cane juice in every town. And God bless them! There is simply nothing more refreshing on a hot tropical day than a freshly squeezed nước mía! It only costs 15000 VND which is equally refreshing

Other Popular “Nước” Expressions

Cho tôi xin cốc nước? May I have some water? … or just raise your hand and yell “Nước!”

Nước alone generally refers to “water”, but it also means anything liquidy, from soy saunce to human effluents:

  • Nươc cam – Orange juice
  • Nước dừa – Coconut juice
  • Nước tương – soy sauce
  • Nước canh – soup
  • Nước mưa – rain
  • Nước biển – ocean water
  • Nước mắt – tear (i.e., water from the eyes)
  • Nước hoa – perfume (literally “flower water”)
  • Nước tiểu – urine (i.e., water when you pee) lol

Nước dừa

Thankfully “blood” is not a type of nước. It is a more macabre-sounding “máu“.

This type of linguistic prototyping is common in Vietnamese: one word, in isolation, specifically refers to a thing that is representative of a group of somewhat-related things (nước = water), but when used as a compound word (nước hoa = perfume), it has different meanings. You can see this also with words like Bánh.

Countries as Nước

Nước means liquid, but it also refers to a person’s means country and/or nationality. Although this may seem confusing, it should be readily apparent from context, whether a “nước” is referring to a liquid or a country

For example, a street woman with a blender and passion fruit and a sign reading “Nước Chanh Leo” is obviously selling juice. Likewise, a customs form at the immigration department with Nước: is referring to a country:

Bạn đến từ nước nào?” – What country are you from?

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