Today I stumbled upon this question:

"If you dip a glass rod in water it gets wet while if you dip that same rod in Mercury it doesn't. Give reason."

I know that's a physics question and I don't want any answer. But what interests me is the usage of the word 'wet' for a substance like mercury.
Is it right to use so?
I know that 'wet' is used for water and water like substances, but what about something that's entirely different from water (or don't even resemble water)?
What if we're talking about oil, or some kind of acid, or glycerine or some kind of stuff like that?

2 Answers 2


The verb wet means the attachment of a liquid to a solid. While mercury can't wet a glass rod, it can certainly wet some metals.

Scienceline "wetting"

Wetness is the ability of a liquid to adhere to the surface of a solid, so when we say that something is wet, we mean that the liquid is sticking to the surface of a material.

Wikipedia "liquid metals"

Wetting to metallic and non-metallic surfaces
Once oxides have been removed from the substrate surface, most liquid metals will wet most metallic surfaces.

So, it's certainly correct to use the verb wet with substances other than water. Each liquid has materials that it can wet, and others that it can't. Oil certainly wets some plastics, like the bottle my olive oil comes in.


Informally we would tend not to use "wet" when talking about viscous oils, since we have words like "oily" or "greasy" that are preferable. With very fluid substances like (pure) alcohol, or nail polish remover (acetone) then "wet" is fine.

Use a cloth wet with acetone to clean dried paint.

Scientifically you would say that oils will "wet" glass, (as the adhesive forces between the glass and the oil molecules are more than the cohesive forces within the drops.

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