This is from the BBC, Shooting of 3 women shocks Italy

"Shooting of 3 women at a cafe shocks Italy."

When I read the headline, I can guess the meaning from the context. Someone else did the shooting at 3 women.

But grammatically, the structure "Shooting of 3 women..." sounds ambiguous to me when I read it first, because it could sound like "the shooting which was done by the women .....", because "of" creates a meaning "the shooting belongs to them" and the word "shooting" is a noun. Then the "shooting of 3 women" sounds like "the shooting (activity) which belongs to the 3 women".

I am not quite sure if this is ambiguous in English Language. That is why I am asking.

And secondly, if I want to tell about another happening in which "3 women shot at someone else", how will I structure the question. Should I say "shooting BY 3 women..." or should I say "3 women's shooting......"

2 Answers 2


The ambiguity lies in the definition of the word shooting, but not in the preposition of.

It could mean:

  • an instance of shooting with a gun or other weapon

That shooting of mine was terrible - I missed all the targets.

This example is a bit of a stretch, but it would mean "my shooting", "shooting done by me".

  • an occasion when someone is killed or injured by being shot with a gun

The Shooting of Rabbit Wells recreates the lives of both victim and killer and the forces that brought them together.

  • So, you think "the shooting of three women" is ambiguous?? I disagree. It only means the women were shot.
    – gotube
    Dec 12, 2022 at 16:38
  • @gotube No, "shooting of 3 women at a cafe" is clear. I was trying to point out that it doesn't have to be "shooting of <the target>" Dec 12, 2022 at 18:52

It is not ambiguous. It means that someone shot at and hit three women. There are some similar cases in which there is potential for ambiguity (and similar questions here) but this is not one of them.

For example, "The murder of Jack" would usually mean that Jack was killed. But "The murders of Jack" would be murders committed by Jack. But "shooting" doesn't follow that pattern.

There is no particular logic, the collocation "shooting of X" simply has a particular idiomatic meaning.

  • 2
    If the venue were not a café but a women's marksmanship competition, it could, and probably would, be interpreted as the three women doing the shooting.
    – JavaLatte
    Dec 12, 2022 at 9:02
  • 1
    Even then I think a native speaker would avoid that particular colocation. It would be much more natural to say "the shooting by three women"
    – James K
    Dec 12, 2022 at 9:10
  • @James K, thanks for the answer. Yes, it seems there is no particular logic. You have to find the meaning from the context. So can we say "for the English language," the structure "gerund+of+someone" does not always mean that the "gerund" is done by the person.
    – Yunus
    Dec 12, 2022 at 10:41
  • 1
    @yunus for intransitive verbs, you can always say that it's done by the person. For transitive verbs, it's probably be more likely that they are the object of the gerund.
    – JavaLatte
    Dec 12, 2022 at 10:54
  • @JavaLatte, yes, that is what I have been thinking about. I have checked many examples in that structure, and it seems so. Thanks a lot.
    – Yunus
    Dec 12, 2022 at 10:58

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