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Consider the following image.

four bottles of flavored water

In school, I was taught there are four "bottles of water". Do native English speakers say it that way in everyday life, or would it be better to say "four water bottles"?

  • 6
    Why would you think this is not everyday English? Why are you asking about this phrase and not another one? – James K Mar 22 at 9:01
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    @JamesK Because when I searched "bottles of water" I got lots of water bottles. – WXJ96163 Mar 22 at 9:17
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    "Water bottles" is not as a phrase as "bottles of water" as the latter is mainly used in my experience when referring to clear plastic single-use bottles, while the former also often means reusable ones. – Stormblessed Mar 22 at 18:28
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    To add to the fun, there is also a 'hot water bottle' which is not a bottle at all and would never be called a bottle of hot water. – mcalex Mar 23 at 7:22
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    @JMac In the sense that if you bought a "water bottle" at an online store, and they sent you a "hot water bottle", you can easily get a refund or dispute the charge as "incorrect merchandise" and no credit card will bat an eye and refund you. Nobody drinks out of a hot water bottle either, since you can never clean it properly with the corners, and it'll most likely have unsanitary build-up inside. – Nelson Mar 23 at 15:24
44

Yes, it's fine in everyday life. For example, in this recent headline from Metro, the free London newspaper:

Panic buyer screams at Tesco staff for refusing to let him buy 24 bottles of water

https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/19/panic-buyer-screams-tesco-staff-refusing-let-buy-24-bottles-water-12424789/

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  • 1
    Thank you. Are there some other alternatives to say it? – WXJ96163 Mar 22 at 9:19
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    @WXJ96163 I can't think of any. "Water bottle" sounds like you want to buy a reusable bottle. – richardb Mar 22 at 9:39
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    'Bottle of water' is already reduced as much as possible. A bottle. Of water. That's it. – Michael Harvey Mar 22 at 9:46
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    @MichaelHarvey: BoW is much shorter. – WoJ Mar 23 at 8:20
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    @WoJ sure, but it wouldn't be understood as meaning "bottle of water" without extremely strong contextual hints. – Chris H Mar 23 at 9:19
103

Both phrases are idiomatic but they don't mean the same thing. The difference between "water bottles" and "bottles of water" is the water.

Bottles of water have water in them.

Water bottles can be empty.

An empty water bottle is not a bottle of water, though it might be a bottle of air.

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  • 11
    Also, arguably, a "bottle of water" can still be a bottle of water after you've poured it out of the bottle. Basically it can be interpreted as a unit of measure, whereas a "water bottle" cannot. – Ilmari Karonen Mar 22 at 16:02
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    A bottle of water from which the water is poured becomes an empty water bottle. – Michael Harvey Mar 22 at 16:05
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    Yeah, a lot of customary everyday measurements can be ambiguous like that. People still use them, though. For instance, the smallest coffee cup I have is probably about one tenth the size of the biggest one (unless you'd consider that one a mug instead of a cup — another rather fuzzy distinction), but like most people I still routinely use expressions like "I've had two cups of coffee this morning." – Ilmari Karonen Mar 22 at 16:17
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    @Ilmari Karonen: This is especially annoying in the US, where a cup is a standard unit of measure (0.236588 liter), and most coffee cups are close to that size, yet the manufacturers of coffee makers persist in labelling them in "cups" that are about half that size. – jamesqf Mar 22 at 17:37
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    @MichaelHarvey Not necessarily. If I fill a wine bottle with water, I have a bottle of water. If I pour the water out again, I have an empty wine bottle, not an empty water bottle. "Bottle of X" indicates what the bottle currently contains; "X bottle" indicates what the bottle is generally expected to contain. – Anthony Grist Mar 24 at 9:56
31

You can see the same structure used with all sorts of English phrases, e.g.

  • Bottle of beer vs beer bottle
  • Soda can vs can of soda
  • Packet of crisps vs crisp packet
  • Paint tin vs tin of paint

If you say "water bottle" you're using "water" as an adjective to describe the type of bottle it is — a bottle (usually) used to store water. So that could be a branded bottle (e.g. Evian) or a reusable bottle that people refill from a water cooler or tap.

If you say "bottle of water" you're putting emphasis on the state of things — there is some water in the bottle, (but you're not commenting on the type of bottle).

So you could say:

Can I put cooking oil in a water bottle?

Reddit: /r/NoStupidQuestions

This person is asking if they can put oil into a disposable bottle normally used for water (water bottle). If they do, we could say it's a "bottle of oil" even though it's in a water bottle :)

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  • 6
    And there is a (too!) well-known song about "99 bottles of beer on the wall" but not about "99 beer bottles ..." – dave_thompson_085 Mar 23 at 0:55
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    @dave_thompson_085 - Don't pass them around!!! Social distancing!!! – Hot Licks Mar 24 at 22:26
  • To add to this: if I bought a bottle of Budweiser, poured the beer out, then filled it up with water, I would have "a beer bottle full of water". "an X bottle" can refer to the design of the bottle and/or the liquid it's supposed to hold, even if it's filled with something different. – GMA Mar 25 at 10:08
  • Although come to think of it, you can say "a beer bottle" and a "bottle of water", but it sounds a bit unnatural to say "a beer bottle of water" (without adding "full" like in my previous comment.) – GMA Mar 25 at 10:11
14

A bottle of water is any bottle that currently contains water.

A water bottle is a bottle designed/intended to hold water. If you get an empty Coke bottle and put water in it, it's a "bottle of water" but not a "water bottle".

Now people do reuse purchased bottles of water and those do get called water bottles, but if you say "water bottle" most people will usually think of a product purchased without water, usually made from heavy duty plastic or steel.

photo of two steel water bottles
Photo by Amraepowell

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  • 1
    The modern mariner buys 24 water bottles. "Bottles, bottles, everywhere, but not a drop to drink." – oliver-clare Mar 23 at 14:42
  • Although if you customarily use that specific Coke bottle to hold water it may become a 'water bottle', and least to people who know what you usually use it for. – Richard Ward Mar 25 at 10:40
4

A bottle of water is a bottle with water in it. A water bottle is a bottle that is used to hold water whether or not it contains water right now.

This applies to many containers that hold liquids: a teapot, a pot of tea; a paint bucket, a bucket of paint; a wine glass, a glass of wine.

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4

Agreed with Curiousdanii, but with one clarification. A "water bottle" is always a multi-use item, not a single use plastic bottle. Even when empty or when something else is in it, it's still a "water bottle" and is referred to as such. Even is someone refilled a crinkly plastic single use bottle and is using it as a "water bottle", it's only obvious if you're pointing to it when you say "Hand me my water bottle." Otherwise I'd look around for a metal or hard plastic one until they said, "that one there!". A plastic bottle of water is usually referred to as "bottled water" (at least where I'm from) and is referred to that way "How much for a bottled water?", or can be "How much for a bottle of water?", but "How much for the water bottle?" is almost always said with trepidation referring to an overpriced contraption with special insulation or at least an easy open non-spill top.

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  • The second sentence really isn't correct: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_bottle#Single-use_plastic . It's probably a phrase that is used differently between regions and groups. – eps Mar 23 at 20:00
  • Actually, these days water bottles rarely contain insulation. Rather, there's two layers of metal with a vacuum between. We used to use insulation because the vacuum devices were easy to break, but now they're rugged enough that they have pretty much replaced insulation. – Loren Pechtel Mar 24 at 4:50
  • @eps Yes that seems to be specifically a USA thing. – Asteroids With Wings Mar 24 at 16:40
  • I don't think it's wrong, at least in the UK, to say "a water bottle" to talk about an empty single-use plastic bottle. E.g. I have a few big empty "single-use" bottles that I've saved in a cupboard which I fill up to take on camping trips etc.. If I was packing for one of these trips it wouldn't be wrong to say "don't forget to fill up the water bottles!" – GMA Mar 25 at 10:14
2

“Bottle of water” refers to the container and its contents.

“Water bottle” refers to the container.

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0

A water bottle is a bottle for water[1].

A bottle of water is water in a bottle.

Bottle bottle bottle bottle bottle.

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[1] But not necessarily containing water.

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  • Thx. What does [1] mean? – WXJ96163 Mar 25 at 0:04
  • Refers to the footnote with the same number at the bottom. – onacosmicscale Mar 26 at 4:21
-1

In an era of hypermarkets this distinction has been lost but once you had to visit two different places to buy a bottle of water and a water bottle.

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