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In the dictionary

leak: 1 [intransitive, transitive] if a container, pipe, roof etc leaks, or if it leaks gas, liquid etc, there is a small hole or crack in it that lets gas or liquid flow through

The roof is leaking. A tanker is leaking oil off the coast of Scotland

I am not sure when we can use the verb "leak"

Can we use the verb "leak" when there is not water present in the container?

Can we say "the pot is leaking" or "the pot leaks" when the pot is empty?

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    I might have preferred "The pot is leaky". But since the question was about usage of the verb, rather than how to describe a pot with cracks in it, that alternative is not directly relevant. And it might also be my non-nativeness showing through. In my native language, the verb is used to describe actual liquid pouring out, while the adjective is used to describe the state of disrepair.
    – Arthur
    Nov 1, 2023 at 14:32
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    @Arthur I think it's very relevant. "The pot leaks" and "the pot is leaky" are the two most correct options to me. Nov 1, 2023 at 16:18
  • I've had plenty of things that leaked -- tires, buckets, travel mugs, pens, but never a pot. How and where does a pot leak? Nov 1, 2023 at 18:28
  • A pot leaks if liquid emerges from an unintentional hole or crack. A deliberate hole, such as one in a flower pot, would be described as draining rather than leaking. Pots are often made of brittle stuff like porcelain, cast iron, brass, etc. Cracks or holes may occur due to temperature changes, allowing liquid to leak out. Modern kitchenware tends to be aluminum, and cooking over fires is less common, but leaky ceramics such as teapots, coffee pots, etc. are still commonplace. In the past an entire profession existed to repair such leaks, the tinker.
    – barbecue
    Nov 1, 2023 at 18:48
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    "the pot is leaking" means it is happening right now, so that would not be correct. "the pot leaks" is correct, or slightly better "the pot is leaky". Nov 3, 2023 at 0:43

5 Answers 5

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To describe something that has a hole or crack in it enough to allow the contents to leak, we normally use present simple, so "the pot leaks" is correct and the most natural way to describe it. At the pragmatics level, it means, "When the pot has fluid in it, the fluid leaks out".

The present continuous generally refers to actions happening right now, or to a temporary situation. "The pot is leaking" will usually mean that the pot is leaking right now, so it cannot be empty. And if it refers to an empty pot, it means "the pot leaks, and this situation is temporary", so it implies that the issue will soon be solved, perhaps by the pot being mended or replaced.

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    Excellent final point about the (slightly unusual) context where we could (but don't have to) use present continuous to refer to a leaky vessel that's currently empty. Not everyone would think of that (well, I didn't, anyway! :) Nov 1, 2023 at 10:52
  • Such a use of present continuous is understandable, but it seems marginal to me. In linguistics terms, we say that the simple present can be used to indicate potential aspect. "The pot leaks" would be more explicitly stated as "the pot can leak", but that sounds unnatural... I think because verbs using the "can" modal (in active mode) should normally have a subject that is actually agentive. Nov 2, 2023 at 14:29
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    I think it’s worth mentioning that a very natural way to convey the status of a leaky pot is to say “the pot has a leak”.
    – A McKelvy
    Nov 3, 2023 at 2:04
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    @nigel222: No, I probably wouldn't use the continuous there! Nor would most native speakers, I think. Assuming I'd been able to shut both valves some time ago (perhaps days, weeks, or months earlier) so there was no actual water or damp presenting an ongoing problem, I'd be far more likely to say This is the radiator that leaks. My comment was simply made by way of recognizing that some speakers in some closely-related contexts might use the continuous for a fault that still exists even though it's not currently "going wrong". Nov 3, 2023 at 16:38
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    @nigel222: I'd be very surprised if such a trivial usage difference could be meaningfully mapped on to geographical or socioeconomic linguistic communities / dialects. But who knows? Personally, I'd rarely if ever notice any difference between This is the radiator that leaks / is leaking / was leaking / leaked / has been leaking / ... IF the fault had been temporarily resolved before the plumber came. Such differences as exist between the communities you refer to mostly involve things that are often said in specific contexts. But this isn't a common context. Nov 3, 2023 at 18:31
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"The pot leaks" is fine, as it is describing what the pot has the capability to ever do (specifically the pot has the ability "to leak"). This is even if it doesn't necessarily have the capability to right now (for example if there's no water in it). (As gotube's answer describes, this is the present simple.)

"The pot is leaking" would imply that it is currently performing the action ("leaking"), which it can't do if it's empty. (As gotube's answer describes, this is the present continuous.)

As far as actual description of a pot that's unable to hold it's water, another option as well is "the pot is leaky" (and is the one I'd probably use in day to day conversation).

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    The last paragraph is what I was thinking. And maybe a non-native speaker misheard it as "is leaking".
    – Barmar
    Nov 2, 2023 at 15:30
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Another option I haven't seen mentioned is:

the pot has a leak

This is what I instinctively reached for as a native speaker. A bit more verbose than "the pot's leaky", but it's another option.

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I am not an expert, but as a native English speaker one might say something that's leaky "is leaking" if it regularly receives water, like a gutter or a pipe.

As others have said, though, "the pot leaks/is leaky" is a more natural description for a pot.

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    – Community Bot
    Nov 3, 2023 at 8:38
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I could certainly say "the pot is leaking" for a pot that is currently empty if that pot keeps leaking whenever someone tries to keep a liquid in it.

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    Nov 3, 2023 at 8:38

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