I know it's a bit weird but I can't express this idea naturally....

When someone has food or water quickly(especially water) we start coughing. The food or water don't get stuck but we start coughing. Like, for example, if we take big sips of water and quickly we tend to start coughing. So what is it called (it isn't getting stick in the oesophagus) in English? How do you express this idea?


We say that food is stuck in their throat or that food went down the wrong way or the wrong pipe (meaning the windpipe) when somebody coughs as a result of trying to swallow food or liquids.

If serious, we say that someone is choking.

Many people (including a friend of mine) have died as a result of this.

First aid courses teach people the Heimlich maneuver as one means of assisting somebody who may be choking.



  • And can liquids "choke"? Like when we take a big gulp of water and our chest hurts. What is it called?(when we drink a liquid and our chest hurts, in terms of choking). – It's about English Apr 23 '19 at 10:21
  • They certainly can choke. When people inhale liquids, they either cough and/or choke and, in the worst cases, they drown. – Ronald Sole Apr 23 '19 at 10:33
  • When we take a big gulp of water and our chest hurts. What is it called? Is it still called "the water went down the wrong way" or "the water choked"?(when we drink a liquid and our chest hurts, in terms of choking). Or will it just be: "I just choked". Or will it be "water just choked"? – It's about English Apr 23 '19 at 10:49
  • "We take a big gulp of water and our chest hurts. What is it called?" Sounds more like a medical problem than an English language problem! – James Random Apr 23 '19 at 10:53
  • No... sometimes if we take a big gulp of water our chest hurts (sometimes), it isn't a medical situation if it happens sometimes because of drinking water quickly and in big gulps. So will it be called "stuck" or "choke" or "going down the wrong way"? – It's about English Apr 23 '19 at 11:08

"Choke" is a tricky word. The main meaning is that the connected noun is unable to breathe. I choke, Bob chokes, we are choking. We can't breathe. However it can also mean that the connected noun causes something else to be unable to breathe. Bob chokes me, smoke chokes me, I can't breathe. When we say "Bob chokes" it normally means Bob can't breathe. However if Bob is a murder and someone asks "how does Bob kill", we could say "Bob chokes". Note the strong context there, making it clear that we mean Bob causes other people to be unable to breathe.

"The water choked" will almost always sound like the water can't breathe. You can say the water choked Bob because you have a clear target for who or what can't breathe. But you should only say "Thing chokes" if (1) Thing is unable to breathe, or (2) you have a clear statement or clear context that Thing is causing a specific other thing to not-breathe.

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