In the dictionary

​strangle somebody: to kill somebody by pressing their throat and neck hard, especially with your fingers

​[transitive] choke somebody: to make somebody stop breathing by pressing their throat, especially with your fingers SYNONYM strangle

He may have been choked or poisoned. She had been choked to death when her necklace snagged on overhanging branches.

When we say "I looked for the pen", it doesn't mean "I found the pen" because "look for" means "try to find".

My question is that:

When we say "Tom choked Mary" or "Tom strangled Mary", does it mean "tried to kill by pressing the throat" or "killed by pressing the throat"?

Does "Tom choked Mary" or "Tom strangled Mary" imply Mary died after that act or we don't know if she was dead or not?

But then, can we say "Tom strangled/choked Mary but she is still alive now"?

  • Please edit your question to show what you found when you looked up definitions for "strangle" and "choke." Note that they're not perfect synonyms. Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 15:47
  • "Was Mary already dead if we say "Tom choked Mary" or "Tom strangled Mary"?" Who would strangle or choke a dead person??
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 15:56
  • I’m voting to close this question because it makes no sense. Even maniacs don't strangle or choke a dead person.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 15:57
  • 1
    Tom, do calm down! Mary, run! Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 17:44
  • 1
    It's a fair question to ask whether "Tom strangled Mary" always means "Tom killed Mary by choking her to death". If I say, "Tom is strangling Mary", it clearly means Mary is not dead yet. If someone (@MichaelHarvey??) intervenes and saves Mary, is it still correct to say, "Tom strangled Mary", or must we say, "Tom tried to strangle Mary", since he didn't kill her?
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 19:03

3 Answers 3


choking or strangling may imply killing, but do not necessarily lead to it. You would have to say "choked to death" to show killing, otherwise the meaning depends on context

  • but why the dictionary says "​strangle somebody: to kill somebody by pressing their throat". Why didn't the dictionary say "​strangle somebody: to try to kill somebody by pressing their throat"?
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 15:57
  • Thanks for contributing! Please make sure your answer is accurate, though, and wait until the questioner has met our requirements. I asked the OP to look up these terms in a dictionary; when I look up "strangle" I find that most definitions assume "to death," while that isn't true of "choke." (But I expected the OP to find that out themself and edit if they still have some uncertainty.) Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 16:00
  • Some people say "choke" could mean she is still alive but "strangle" could mean she is dead already
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 16:01
  • @Tom Whatever "they say", they would neither choke nor strangle a person who is already dead.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 16:03
  • @Small-Jaguar - Can I also say strangled to death? Of course not. Strangled implies choked to death. Strangled is like drowned. You're dead if it happens to you. The real grey area is in words like strangling and drowning.
    – EllieK
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 17:48

We have certain words that mean to kill by way of. Strangulation is one of those words. If I say someone strangled someone else, I mean they choked that person until they were dead.

If I tell a group of twenty people that's what strangulation means a large percent will make the incorrect argument that you can use strangle to mean choke. People misuse those words all the time and they are steadfast in their erroneous usages.

The same applies for electrocute and shock. I can't count the number of living friends who have told me that they were electrocuted.


No, we can't know for sure, since both words can be used in both ways, but strangle is more often used if we mean that the person was killed.

The most potentially confusing thing in the definition that you found is that strangle is given as a synonym for choke. As is often the case with synonyms, it isn't an exact match, and has connotations that the other one lacks.

You're pointing to the fact that you could perhaps use both words to talk about squeezing someone's neck for a period of time, and about completely killing someone that way.

"Stop it! You're choking me!"

... said no corpse ever.

But there's a difference between the two words. When I look up strangle, many of the definitions I find assume that it means strangle to death:

  • Merriam-Webster says "to choke to death..." and "to obstruct seriously or fatally the normal breathing of." The second definition says "or fatally," allowing a non-fatal use.
  • Cambridge simply says "to kill someone by pressing their throat so that they cannot breathe."
  • Lexico (Oxford) says "Squeeze or constrict the neck of (a person or animal), especially so as to cause death," again specially mentioning but not requiring a fatal definition.

In comparison, when I look up choke...

  • Merriam-Webster leads with "to check or block normal breathing of by compressing or obstructing the trachea or by poisoning or adulterating available air," and never mentions death.
  • Cambridge says "If you choke, or if something chokes you, you stop breathing because something is blocking your throat," again not mentioning death.
  • Lexico says "(of a person or animal) have severe difficulty in breathing because of a constricted or obstructed throat or a lack of air," again not mentioning death.

So I would take all this to mean:

  • Strangle can mean either choking someone for a period of time, or killing them by doing so, but much more strongly implies killing (one of the entries uses "tried to strangle" in an example)
  • Choke is more often used for the activity alone
  • Since both words can be used both ways, there is no way to be absolutely sure what is meant without context.
  • "Tom [choked/strangled] Mary" —This may or may not mean that Tom killed Mary, though if you choose strangled, it will be more strongly implied.
  • "Tom [strangled/choked] Mary but she is still alive now" —Yes, this is not nonsensical. Choked would be a better choice in this instance (and you could reword the whole thing to be even clearer, like "but she survived" to avoid suggesting a zombie scenario).
  • There is similar ambiguity with many words that can be means of death. "Tom shot Mary" tends to be taken to mean that Tom killed Mary, but many shootings are non-fatal. Perhaps this ambiguity is why the language used in sentencing people to death by hanging used to include "you will be hung by the neck until dead." At any rate, especially if an often-fatal action is survived, a writer would be well advised to explain that clearly. Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 16:25
  • I would never assume Tom shot Mary meant Mary was dead. Shot and killed is the common way of indicating a subsequent death due to shooting.
    – EllieK
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 16:32
  • He changed the question from this: "Was Mary already dead if we say "Tom choked Mary" or "Tom strangled Mary"?
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 16:43
  • 1
    What a cheerful topic for a Monday! Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 17:45
  • @AndyBonner - I think the expression was used because hanging, drawing and quartering involved being hanged not until dead. Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 17:55

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