Can verb-ing + noun mean something which is done?

For example, “drinking water.”

“Drinking water” means water which is drunk, not water which drinks something.

1 Answer 1


Yes, this is possible.

The "verb+ing" forms a participle, which modifies the noun. The interpretation of that participle is determined by idiom. In the case of water, the participle describes the function or purpose of the water: it to be drunk.

This is not always the case! A "washing machine" is not to be washed, it is for washing clothes.

How do you know the difference? Idiom, experience and common sense. "Water" cannot drink, so "drinking water" can't be "water that drinks something". A machine can be washed, but that is not a use of a machine, so "washing machine must mean a machine that does washing.

As these are idioms they have to be learnt. You can try making your own, but you can't be sure that they will be idiomatic.

  • When it comes to non-idioms, they can mean both? ex) boiling cup (cup to be boiled; cup not melted when boiled)
    – user140142
    Jul 26, 2021 at 9:47
  • If they are not idiomatic then they are not used (that is what idiom means), and so have no meaning. "boiling cup" would probably mean "a cup for boiling water in" but I've never heard of such a term. "A boiling cup of water" means that the water in the cup is boiling, and should probably be corrected to "a cup of boiling water"
    – James K
    Jul 26, 2021 at 9:59
  • The meaning is defined by idiom, if there is no idiom, then there is no meaning.
    – James K
    Jul 26, 2021 at 10:00

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