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About a year ago, I had an on-line friend, a native speaker, chatting with me. When I sent a message to him saying:

I'm starving to the point of death.

He rephrased that as:

I'm starving to death.

But now that I think about it, and googled it, my expression wasn't wrong and they use it a lot. So I was wondering why he had to correct the sentence. Is it not a colloquial language? Or does it have slightly differences in meaning?

  • It is important to note, that "I'm starving to death" is a very common English idiom. Your friend most likely thought you were trying to use that idiom. – Dylan Feb 26 at 18:38
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If someone starves to death, they are dead.

If someone starves to the point of death, they are on the cusp of dying due to starvation, but have not yet done so. If they do not get food immediately, they will die. Your friend was using it as hyperbole, or dramatic overstatement.

Of course, if someone really were starving to the point of death, they would be unconscious and couldn't eat, and would need intravenous nutrition.

This is not to be confused with at the point of death, which means "at the moment that death occurred". It is particularly used for legal stuff related to what happens after someone dies, but is used in other contexts as well.

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    I might add that while I'm starving or I'm starving to death is extremely common hyperbole in casual conversation, I'm starving to the point of death is unusual and somewhat unnatural even though it is perfectly grammatical and would have essentially the same meaning. – choster Feb 24 at 21:30
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    People say "I'm freezing to death" when they are feeling slightly cold. – Michael Harvey Feb 24 at 22:35
  • Very true @choster, but the other "I'm starving" constructions are hyperbole that is so common that I don't even think of it as such - they're figures of speech. To the point of death goes into definite excessive hyperbole, but people do do that sometimes. – SamBC Feb 24 at 23:19
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    Even taken literally, "starving to death" means you're in middle of a process that will eventually lead to death, you haven't "starved to death" yet. – Barmar Feb 25 at 21:50
  • @Barmar: True. While "starving to the point of death" suggests imminently reaching that point, unless other context suggests otherwise. – SamBC Feb 25 at 21:53
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The idiomatic phrase is "starving to death", which is a massively exaggerated way of saying "I'm hungry". "Starving to the point of death" isn't wrong; it's just not what people normally say.

If you were speaking literally, "I'm starving to death" would mean that you had been without food for so long that you were going to die of hunger and you expected that to happen. "I'm starving to the point of death" would suggest that you somehow knew that you would almost starve to death but be rescued at the last moment. That's an unusually precise prediction! In reality, I assume you were just using hyperbole and, in that case, the idiomatic "I'm starving to death" is the phrase to use. If you're going to exaggerate for effect, exaggerate as much as possible!

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    Likewise, a common hyperbole from the other direction is "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse". – jamesqf Feb 25 at 0:08
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I agree with the top answer to some extent, but it only addresses the past tense:

  • Steve starved to death: This means Steve died, and the cause of death was starvation.
  • Steve starved to the point of death: This means that Steve starved so much that he was about to die. He may have then gone on to die, or survived after all, depending on whether he immediately obtained food at that point (but it is heavily implied that he survived by the fact that you did not simply say "starved to death").

This misses that your question is about the present participle ("starving"):

  • Steve is starving to death: This means that Steve has not yet starved to death, but he is on the way there. In other words, he is before the point of death. This is like the difference between "Steve is playing cricket" vs "Steve played cricket".
  • Steve is starving to the point of death: Steve has not yet starved to the point of death, but he is on his way there.

Now it is hopefully clear that "I am starving to the point of death" is an odd construction. It is like saying "Steve is walking towards the edge of London (from the outside)". Sure, it may be true, but why not just say "Steve is walking towards London"? It is simpler, and neither of them say where you will stop.

It is still hyperbole to say that you're "starving to death", but not because it's claiming that you have already died. Instead, it is because the fact that you mention death (or starvation) implies that it is a genuine concern, when it presumably is not. To say that you're "starving to the point of death" is exactly the same degree of hyperbole but more awkwardly phrased.

  • Does the same go for "Thirsty to death Vs. Thirsty to the point of death"? – dolco Feb 26 at 11:47
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    @dolco No, "starving" is not an adjective like "thirsty". – Mr Lister Feb 26 at 12:35
  • @dolco: There are two uses of "to death"; one with verbs, that indicate an action (usually a potentially fatal one) is happening until death follows (to starve to death, to beat to death... usually means you actually die though you can use them hyperbolically), and another with adjectives, to hyperbolically intensify that adjective (I'm bored to death, I'm sick to death of something... (hardly ever means you actually die)). Thirsty isn't a verb, so it wouldn't use the first sense of "to death" anyway, and it happens it isn't commonly used with the second sense either. – Oosaka Feb 26 at 14:18
  • @dolco Neither of those are grammatically correct. You could say "I'm dying of thirst", in which case the closest phrase involving the point of death is probably "I'm reaching the point of dying of thirst"; in that case, yes the same does apply. You could also say "I'm at the point of dying of thirst", which is technically a little different (you've reached the point where you're about to die, rather than on the way there) but still awkward and has the same figurative meaning. – Arthur Tacca Feb 26 at 17:18
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In this case, hyperbole has hijacked the issue. Nonetheless, one of your statements is wildly improbable, as I will discuss.

Other answers have dealt with "I'm starving to death", at least as far as first person goes. The phrase is so widely used simply to mean "very hungry", that this is the default usage. However, a more realistic use might be along the lines of, "I'm trapped on a desert island with no food and no rescue in sight, and I'm starving to death." Although, as you might imagine, this is not what most would consider a very "realistic" scenario.

"To the point of death" is a rather different case. It would be used when the most likely outcome of the current situation is that the individual will die shortly. For a person to be so close to death from starvation, unconsciousness would be extremely likely, so "I'm starving to the point of death" would be (if accurate) an unlikely statement.

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