I'm wondering about usage of the word "save" when it's about saving a file (in a computer).

When we can't save a file, what do we say?

  1. "The file doesn't save."

  2. "The file isn't saving."

  3. "The file isn't being saved."

I think that #3 is correct, but the word "save" can also be intransitive. I would like to know if I can use it in that way too (like #1 and #2).

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  • 2
    It seems to me that any of the three sound natural to a native ear. I'd also add "The file won't save." This imparts the concept of the file having free will to do something, but despite its not being logical, it is heard, just like "the sun is trying to come out." – Steven Littman Nov 3 '17 at 20:28
  • Why, please, Manuel? When you can't save a file you might use several more phrases than you listed and how would you choose among any of them? Any of your examples might be wholly correct, or completely irrelevant. That is purely dependant on context. What research can you share, please? – Robbie Goodwin Nov 3 '17 at 21:51
  • thank you very much for your answer, actually its not any of my own preference to use that, i heard someone saying "its not being saved" and it just seemed a little redundant to me, i thought "whats wrong with its not saving" which is shorter and easier, so i got curious that maybe its wrong as that person was a good english speaker. – Manuel Neuer Nov 4 '17 at 12:05
  • Manuel, there is no significant difference in your examples. They are wholly interchangeable, except in the context of a junior-school grammar lesson.When its not being saved seemed a little redundant, what d’you think redundant means, please? Yes, *its not saving" is shorter and easier but so what? – Robbie Goodwin Nov 4 '17 at 20:08
  • well if it's that easy or elementary, why would you and mister Jeff have two different opinions about it? anyway, i got my answer, thank you very much for your illuminating guidance. – Manuel Neuer Nov 4 '17 at 20:23

The intransitive use of "save" is an example of an unaccusative verb, an intransitive where the agent is removed and the patient becomes the subject. There are many in English (eg "He cooks the food" -> "The food cooks").

The Oxford English Dictionary specifically lists this intransitive meaning (16 b.): "intr. Of data or a program: to be preserved by copying from main memory to a hard drive or other storage medium, allowing subsequent retrieval as required. Of a file or storage medium: to be replaced by a changed version residing in main memory." The first example given is from 1992: " If the file won't save, try saving it under a different name."

Thus all three of your examples are fine, according to the OED.


"The file doesn't save" implies that the file could save something, perhaps money, lives, or souls. It does not mean that the file can't be saved.

The same objection applies to the second sentence. What should the file be saving, money, dried flowers, lives, string? "The file isn't saving" sounds like the kind of jargon IT people use to confuse the laity about the mysteries of data processing. IT people like to imply that data has a will of its own.

The third sentence is perfectly good English.

LATE EDIT: In response to the issue about "save" as an intransitive verb, it is a peculiar intransitive verb in that an understood object is always implied. "Jesus saves" is understood to mean "Jesus saves souls." "She saved for vacation" means "she saved money for vacation." I do not like to argue about definitions, but defining "save" as an intransitive verb exalts form over substance: "save" does not demand an object only if the context makes clear what is the object to be saved.

  • thanks. yes that's exactly what i mean, but "save" is also intransitive. like "you will melt in that weather" (not you will get molten) and it doesn't mean you will melt something else, but you will be the subject. i hope i'm conveying what i mean correctly. – Manuel Neuer Nov 4 '17 at 12:14
  • so my question is if we can use melt or many other verbs that way, why cant we use save or some other verbs that way too when they can be both transitive and intransitive? – Manuel Neuer Nov 4 '17 at 13:08
  • Sorry to have to downvote you, Jeff, and that Answer made things much worse, not any better… as is seen in Manuel's misguided response. – Robbie Goodwin Nov 4 '17 at 19:57
  • @RobbieGoodwin A down vote and a comment without any explanation is not helpful. – Jeff Morrow Nov 4 '17 at 22:49
  • No,Jeff, your "late edit" is about a different meaning of intransitive "save", and is not relevant. – Colin Fine Nov 5 '17 at 19:45

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