To shoot somebody dead means to kill somebody with bullets. But in the sentence

Just days after a terrorist attacked two mosques in Christchurch, gunning dead 50 worshipers and injuring dozens in a hail of bullets, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles.

gun somebody dead also means the same, but gun as a verb does not mean to kill someone instead the phrasal verb gun somebody down is used. I am confused about the usage of gun somebody dead in the above sentence......


3 Answers 3


I take it to mean killing someone with a firearm. All the variations mean the same thing. However, I have to admit that this is the first time I have seen the phrase "gunning dead." Maybe it's used in New Zealand. I did a search and only came up with two examples on the first four pages or so. At any rate, it means killing by means of a firearm. If this didn't clear up your confusion, comment and let me know.

  • It didn't clear my confusion Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 3:52
  • 2
    Please try to explain exactly what is confusing you. Was David Siegel's answer helpful?
    – Don B.
    Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 3:56

"gun somebody down" means to shoot somebody, but does not say if the person shot was killed or not, although often this phrase will be used when the person is killed. It does imply at least significant injury, so that the person shot fell down or wan knocked down or left prone after the shooting. It also tends to imply that the shooter was callous or ruthless.

"gun somebody dead" is not a commonly used form in any meaning. I suppose it is constructed by analogy with both "gun somebody down" and "shoot somebody dead" and also means to kill someone by shooting them with a gun. This usage is non-standard, but in no way wrong.

Technically i suppose "shoot somebody dead" could be used if the weapon was a bow and arrow, but it is not normally used that way -- in fact i can't recall ever seeing it so used.

  • I would argue that "gun somebody dead" is non-standard and also wrong. The Cambridge Dictionary, MacMillan Dictionary, and the Idioms section of thefreedictionary.com all have entries for "gun down", but none of them have any results for "gun dead". That doesn't mean nobody is using the phrase, of course, but there doesn't seem to be any authoritative source making mention of it, even as a colloquialism.
    – Jess
    Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 15:02
  • @Jess I wouldn't call it "wrong". It is a nonstandard, even inventive, usage which communicates clearly enough, there is no real doubt of the intended meaning. If it were imitated, we would have a new idiom. But it isn't an idiom yet, and probably will never be, so learners should not imitate it. Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 15:21

At first glance it sounds like it could be a facetious construction combining "gun down" and "shoot dead", but given the serious content of the article, that seems unlikely. It's more likely (in my opinion) that the author simply made a mistake and what they meant was one or the other.

Either way, your initial impression that what they mean is "to kill someone using a gun" is correct.

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