Which of these two is preferred?

A: Tea drinking is a British custom

B: Tea drunk is a British custom

P.S. What is it called when we say tea drinking instead of drinking tea?

Also, can we say the "tea drunk" sentence without beginning with "the"?


5 Answers 5


Tea drinking and drinking tea are both phrases that refer to the custom of consuming a beverage made by immersing the leaves of certain plants in hot water. The gerund drinking fits equally well before or after tea.

Tea drunk uses the past participle of drink to refer to tea that has been consumed.

For example:

Tea drinking (or drinking tea) is widely recognised as bringing health benefits.


The amount of tea drunk has increased since its health benefits were recognised.

Thus the first of your examples is correct. The second is not.

It's not grammatical to say that tea drunk is a British custom.

Yes, you can begin a sentence with tea drunk:

Tea drunk without sugar is better for you.

meaning that tea consumed without sugar is better for you.

Equally, you might write:

Drinking tea without sugar is better for you.

whereas to write

Tea drinking without sugar is better for you

is NOT idiomatic.

  • 1
    I guess "teat drunk" is not a phrase or idiom. In your examples, drunk as the shortening for which was/has been drunk followed tea
    – Ahmad
    Jan 14, 2019 at 5:57
  • @Ahmad Exactly! Jan 14, 2019 at 11:10
  • “It's not grammatical to say that tea drunk is a British custom.” — On the contrary, it’s perfectly grammatical. It just doesn’t mean what OP intends it to mean. That doesn’t detract from the fact that the sentence, as written, adheres perfectly to rules of English grammar. Jan 14, 2019 at 17:17
  • 2
    I disagree that "drinking tea" describes a custom. It describes an activity. Only "tea drinking" describes a custom. "tea drinking" is somehow more than just drinking tea.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 15, 2019 at 2:15
  • 1
    I'd say "tea drinking" is an activity (pastime? idk), and "drinking tea" is an action
    – somebody
    Jan 15, 2019 at 6:19

"Tea drunk" is not an idiom, and only makes sense with the meaning "[some] tea [which has been] drunk".

"Tea drinking" is a noun phrase, and its head is the verbal noun (gerund) "drinking". I would be inclined to hyphenate it ("tea-drinking").

"Drinking tea" is a full non-finite clause, which still has verbal qualities. For example, you can modify it with an adverb ("slowly drinking tea"), or elaborate the object ("drinking several cups of very hot tea").

"Tea-drinking" is a noun phrase where most of the verbal qualities have been leached out, so you can't do those things.

  • 1
    I think the standard advice on hyphens is to include them only when the noun phrase is used to modify something else, so the original sentence would not have a hyphen but "this is my tea-drinking equipment" would. Jan 14, 2019 at 9:10
  • 1
    Be that as it may, I would also use the hyphen. In the OP's case it would have solved the confusion at the outset, which is a great example of the benefit. Jan 14, 2019 at 11:05
  • 2
    I don't care very much about standard advice on punctuation (which is why I hardly ever answer questions about it). Much punctuation is completely conventional (and more or less faithfully represents prosodic features of speech) and nobody ever argues about it. The bits of punctuation which people argue about all come down to personal preference. I respect others' personal preferences where they don't impinge on my well-being, but I see no reason why I should be expected to follow them .
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 14, 2019 at 11:50
  • 3
    Actually, though not widely used outside of tea aficionado circles, "Tea Drunk" actually is an idiom . It refers to the feeling you get when you drink a lot of tea (especially when not accompanied with enough food) that can include being light headed or tingly (see Max Zhou's answer for more info). That isn't what the OP was referring to, but it is a real thing
    – Kevin
    Jan 14, 2019 at 19:26
  • 1
    I didn't know that, @KevinWells. Thank you.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 14, 2019 at 22:51

There is another use of the phrase "tea drunk", which has its origins in Chinese, as 茶醉 (cha zui, which literally translates to "tea drunk"). It's a state of being, named because it's similar to being drunk on alcohol, with symptoms including dizziness, weakness, and nausea. In this case, "drunk" is a noun and "tea" is an adjective specifying the type of drunkenness, similar to phrases such as "wine drunk" or "liquor drunk."

Example B would still not be correct with this interpretation, as it's not an activity that can be a custom. However, one could say something like "If you drink tea too quickly, you could get tea drunk."

  • 1
    Yes, this is not a very common idiom in America, but in tea aficionado circles it is well understood. Also not all people dislike being tea drunk. As with being alcohol drunk it can be an enjoyable light-headed or tingly feeling as long as it doesn't get strong enough to make you feel nauseous or dizzy
    – Kevin
    Jan 14, 2019 at 19:32
  • 2
    Even though I haven't heard the expression before (that I can remember), this is how I would interpret the phrase "tea drunk" out of context. X-drunk is a pretty common template, with "X" actually being more likely to be an atypical intoxicant than something like wine or beer – punch drunk) and love drunk are the most common examples I can think of, but I've also heard adrenaline drunk and wouldn't be surprised by any caffeine product in the X position.
    – 1006a
    Jan 14, 2019 at 22:15

Usable patterns:

  • Drinking tea is nice.
  • Tea drinking is a custom in some countries.
  • Answering questions is difficult.
  • Playing tennis is boring.

Tea drinking is subject matter. Drinking tea is the actual activity.

All those are activities. In English, we use gerunds as nouns all the time. Here they are all the subject of the sentences I have provided. Knowing that might be helpful to you. In this last case, "knowing that" is the subject made up of a non-action verb that can take a direct object.

Drinking too much is not good for you. [drinking, as in drinking alcohol] Drinking wine with friends can be amusing.

Another usable pattern, past participle + prepositional phrase, used adjectivally: The tea ||drunk at the gathering|| was from Japan. The movie ||viewed at the conference|| was terrible. The man ||seen on the bus|| was the spy.


Drank and Drunk: Past Tenses of Drink

You asked which of the following was the preferred way of expressing the custom:

A: Tea drinking is a British custom

B: Tea drunk is a British custom

A is correct, because "tea drinking" is a compound word of the form noun plus gerund that forms a single subject for the sentence. Stereotypes aside, you can think of the sentence as:

[The act/practice of] tea drinking is a British custom.

or, alternatively:

[The act/practice of] drinking tea is a British custom.

In the sentence B, "drunk" is an arguably-ambiguous form of the past participle of the verb drink. In casual speech, at least in America, people will often use drunk and drank interchangeably, although "drunk" can also be used as a noun or adjective for being inebriated. As a result, it is often better (at least in formal speech where you're attempting to avoid negative connotations or ambiguous parsing) to say "drank" instead.

Because tea drinking isn't describing something that occurred only in the past, B should be rejected because the past tense of the subject doesn't align with the tense of the verb is (the 3rd person singular present indicative of be). Grammar rules aside, it also just sounds wrong to an American English speaker like me.


Some examples of where drank would be an appropriate word choice would be:

I drank a lot of tea this afternoon. [simple past]

The American guests have drank almost as much tea as their British hosts at the party tonight. [past participle]

As both terms also form the past tense of drink, in informal speech you might also hear:

All the tea in the house was drunk this afternoon.

All the tea in the house got drunk this afternoon.

Despite the ambiguous or ungrammatical word choices, these informal sentences would be understood as the past tense of drink because the subject (the tea) couldn't possibly be (or become) inebriated.

However, to the educated American ear, a sentence like I drunk all the tea. would sound wrong even if drunk were a legitimate past tense of drink. For that reason, I'd recommend using drank as the past tense, although you may certainly hear drunk used the same way informally.

Dictionary Sources

In American English, drank is both the past tense and the past participle of drink, whereas drunk can only ever be the past participle. So, as a purely pragmatic issue, drank is much more likely to used correctly.

For reference, see https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drank and https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drunk. Other regions and dialects may vary.

  • You say, "Large amounts of tea are drank by the British each year." - I'm confused that you seem to be saying that sentence is correct. It isn't correct in British English. You would have to say, "Large amounts of tea are drunk by the British each year." Jan 14, 2019 at 23:37
  • @chaslyfromUK A more unambiguous phrase might be "Large amounts were drunk..." to clarify the past tense usage, but I'm unable to find a canonical source that supports a strong case for drunk vs. drank in any given context. If you can find such a source, I'd be happy to change the example further. Meanwhile, even if you disagree with this particular example, it doesn't really change the overall point of my answer.
    – CodeGnome
    Jan 15, 2019 at 0:48
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    I just checked Merriam-Webster and Oxford English and this is a difference between British and American English. Jan 15, 2019 at 0:57
  • I drank the tea. I have drunk the tea.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 15, 2019 at 2:17
  • @CJDennis In American English, drank is both the past tense and past participle of drink, whereas drunk can only ever be the past participle. See merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drank and merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drunk.
    – CodeGnome
    Jan 15, 2019 at 3:46

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