Living and Non-Living Things: Definitions and Characteristics

Everything on Earth can be categorized as either living or non-living. Living things possess life, while non-living things lack life.


Living things, also known as organisms, are entities that exhibit the characteristics of life. They are a fundamental part of the natural world and can be found in various ecosystems and environments.

Living organisms can be classified into various kingdoms, including animals, plants, fungi, protists, and bacteria.

Tortoise. Example of Living Things
Tortoise, an example of living things. Image Credit: NoName_13 on Pixabay.

Non-living things, also known as inanimate objects or abiotic factors, are entities that lack the characteristics of life. These objects or substances do not possess the fundamental traits associated with living organisms.

Examples of non-living things include rocks, minerals, water, air, soil, metals, plastic, glass, and various human-made objects like buildings, vehicles, and machines.

Everything on Earth can be categorized as either living or non-living. Living things include plants and animals that possess life, while non-living things lack life.

Stones, examples of non-living things. Image Credit: Schäferle on Pixabay.

Characteristics of Living Things

Living things exhibit distinct characteristics that differentiate them from non-living things, which are as follows:

  1. Nutrition: Living organisms have the ability to feed. The purpose of nutrition is to sustain life processes such as growth, respiration, and reproduction. While green plants can produce their own food through photosynthesis (autotrophic nutrition), animals cannot and rely on plants directly or indirectly for sustenance (heterotrophic nutrition).
  2. Respiration: Respiration involves the exchange of gases between organisms and their environment. Living organisms take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. The purpose of respiration is to extract energy from food for vital life processes.
  3. Excretion: Excretion is the process of eliminating metabolic waste products from the body. It helps remove poisonous or toxic substances such as water and carbon dioxide. This cleansing process is essential for maintaining a healthy internal environment.
  4. Irritability or Sensitivity: Living things possess the ability to respond to stimuli from their environment. Stimuli can include heat, light, pain, water, sound, and chemical substances. This sensitivity aids survival and adaptation.
  5. Growth: Growth is the increase in size, dry mass, or weight of an organism due to the addition of living plasmic materials. It allows organisms to repair or replace damaged tissues and is fueled by the food they consume.
  6. Reproduction: Reproduction is the ability of living organisms to give birth to offspring. Its purpose is to ensure the continuity of life, passing it on from one generation to the next. Reproduction can occur through asexual or sexual means.
  7. Adaptation: Adaptation is the process by which living organisms adjust to their environments to enhance survival and comfort. It involves physical, behavioural, or physiological changes.
  8. Life Span/Death: All living things have a limited existence and go through a defined life cycle: Birth ➡️ Growth ➡️ Maturity ➡️ Decline (old age) ➡️ Death.
  9. Competition: Living organisms engage in competition to secure essential resources for survival. This includes competition for food, light, space, water, mates, and more.
  10. Movement: Movement is the ability of an organism to move its entire body or parts of its body from one place to another. Movement serves various purposes, including searching for food, reproduction, and responding to environmental threats. Animals generally exhibit more extensive movement capabilities than plants.
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Non-living things lack the aforementioned characteristics attributed to living things. They can’t move, reproduce, grow, or compete. They also lack the capability of respiration and do not have life span.



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