I know "out of breath" means having difficulty breathing after exercise

What does ‘running’ in the following sentence mean? Does it mean ‘becoming’?

George is trying really hard but he’s running out of breath.


1 Answer 1


The phrase to run out of something is an idiomatic expression in English which means to use all of something and not have any left. Have you ever heard someone say "I'm running out of milk"? What they're saying is that they have used up almost all of their milk and there is almost none left. Maybe, there is still a little bit left, but for all intents and purposes, all their milk is pretty much gone. Transferring that idea over to your example, it means that even though George was trying really hard, he could not do any more whatever he was doing because he had used up almost all of his energy/breath.

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    As a footnote, this could mean something different with a comma: George is trying really hard but he's running, out of breath.
    – J.R.
    Apr 23, 2018 at 13:56
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    Nitpick: "it means that George could not run any more because..." Nowhere do I see any indication that George is engaged in the activity of "running". He could be performing any activity physical, such as climbing, bicycling, jumping, dancing, etc. I point this out because the "running" in "running out of breath" has no relation to the activity of running specifically.
    – Waylan
    Apr 23, 2018 at 15:00
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    @DavidRicherby It could — if it weren’t for the idiom. Put differently, nobody would guess that you intended the meaning “running while out of breath” if you wrote “running out of breath” without the comma. Apr 23, 2018 at 15:28
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    @DavidRicherby Idiom or not, “run(ning) out of breath” is a fairly common phrase. I’m pretty sure that it’s never used to mean “running while out of breath”. And if not never, then it’s below 1% of the total usage. Apr 23, 2018 at 16:00
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    To borrow from the answer, it's an idiomatic usage. "Running out of milk" is never understood to mean "running, out of milk", or that the subject is literally "running". So the last sentence of the answer does not fit. Instead, it means "very short of <object>". George is short of breath; the subject in this answer is short of milk. Apr 23, 2018 at 17:52

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