From the Cambridge Dictionary

lethal: able to cause or causing death; extremely dangerous

I understand it basically means "killing". When talking about weapons, do "cause death" and "causing death" mean the same thing?

I googled it but didn't get anything. Could someone help me on this?

  • Yes, they mean the same but the phrase has to structured accordingly. Cause is a verb or noun; causing is verb or a gerund. Jun 15, 2020 at 10:04
  • 2
    Able to cause death = that could cause death (intentionally or otherwise). Causing death = that does cause death. Jun 15, 2020 at 10:48
  • You can see from parallel structure that you've parsed the sentence wrong. If it was [able to][[cause]or[causing]]death, then while it would mean "cause death" and "causing death", they would both be attached to "able to". And "able to causing death" doesn't make sense. Thus it must be "[[able to cause] or [causing]] death", since "able to cause death" and "causing death" both make sense. Jun 15, 2020 at 12:49

1 Answer 1


The dichotomy is not between "cause death" and "causing death".

It's between "able to cause death" and "causing death".

In the first case, it is assumed that the death which has been caused is an unfortunate side-effect of using it wrong. A hedge-trimmer is lethal because it's "able to cause death" if you mishandle it by clumsiness and it chops your head off, for example.

In the second case, the assumption is that the death which is caused is more-or-less inevitable in its proper use. Strychnine is lethal in that when administered as required, it is "causing death".

  • Thank you. Could I say "COVID-19 is causing death"?
    – PutBere
    Jun 15, 2020 at 15:00

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