Lets look at the first definition of the verb 'drop' by Macmillan

1. to deliberately let something fall
1a. to let sth fall without intending to

So according to the above definitions I dropped my mobile can either mean I dropped it deliberately or I dropped it unintentionally.

My question is how do I differentiate between dropping things deliberately and unintentionally.

If I say to someone that

  1. She dropped the cup and broke it.

So what does it mean ? Did she do it deliberately or it happened unintentionally ?

  • Same thing is with break. She broke her leg -intentionally or unintentionally? :P I had asked this question here.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 5:07
  • 3
    You cannot tell if it was deliberate or not without additional context.
    – user3169
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 5:31
  • Leo, this might be helpful. I completely understand your confusion. ell.stackexchange.com/questions/29521/…
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 6:21
  • 1
    @MaulikV - That is indeed helpful. I aleardy searched that and gone through it after I read your first comment. Thanks
    – Leo
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 6:27
  • Yeah, so to answer yes that sentence if stands alone does create an ambiguity and that's why, the context and further information is needed. There are many such things in English that we, non natives, have to learn just as they are. Because if we start thinking literally or match its semantic use with grammar rules, we'd probably get confused.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 6:31

2 Answers 2


If you told me that you dropped your phone, I'd assume it was unintentional. (I can't recall ever seeing someone drop their phone on purpose.) When a drop is intentional, that is usually apparent from the context:

She dropped a penny down the wishing well.    (intentional)
He dropped his wallet down the wishing well.    (unintentional)

Naomi dropped her trash into the garbage can.    (intentional)
Paul dropped his glasses into the garbage can.    (unintentional)

The science student dropped the marble onto the lab floor.    (intentional)
The science student dropped the beaker onto the lab floor.    (unintentional)

Rhonda dropped her love letter into the mailbox.         (intentional)
Rhonda dropped her love letter into the storm drain.    (unintentional)

Of course, there's no way to tell for sure – perhaps Rhonda is a recently-jilted lover who is throwing an old letter from her former companion down the sewer drain as an act of contempt; perhaps Paul has recently purchased new eyeglasses and is throwing away his old ones – but there is usually enough context to tell.

Incidentally, this question reminds me of a story that happened to me a long time ago, when my brother and I were young children. Our father took us drop-line fishing off a town bridge; that is, we were using rigs like the one on the left to fish from a bridge like the one on the right:

enter image description here

Anyhow, my line slipped out of my hands and fell into the river. Our father baited my brother's hook, and then said, "Okay, now drop your line in" (meaning, "Put your hook in the water"). My brother (perhaps four years old at the time) threw his line into the river and began to cry.

Our dad asked, "What did you do that for?"

My brother answered, "Well, you told me to drop it in!"

(He thought my dad was trying to be "fair" – since I had lost my line, my brother should lose his, too.)

We went home that day without any fish, but we had a funny story to tell for the rest of our lives.

So, you see, the word drop can be ambiguous in more ways than one.

  • 1
    +1 for the wonderful story. :) But is it for real?
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 4:16
  • 1
    @MaulikV - Every word of it. I assure you, it's no "fish story." (It also demonstrates how words can be more confusing than a lot of us natives assume them to be.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 9:48
  • Awesome! I'll tell this story exactly how it is described here to my daughter. I'm pretty sure, she'll never forget this! And yeah, she knows the top contributors personally. I keep on telling about you guys. She'll be happy tonight! Thanks again! :)
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 9:57

You would have to tell from context.

Considering the example you provided:
She dropped the cup and broke it.

There is a reasonable chance that she did it intentionally. I get that from the way that you described the cup breaking, "She...broke it." If I had wanted to say that it was an accident, I would have written, "She dropped the cup and it broke."

Either of these versions could still be interpreted in either way though, they are only shaded one way or the other a very small amount. 99% of the time the meaning would be clearer from context, particularly if there were a reasonable chance that the dropping was intentional. If there is a chance of an act of this type being construed as malicious, we usually state outright that someone did the action on purpose or intentionally or deliberately, to avoid the ambiguity. Similarly we might state that it was accidental if it appears to have been malicious but was not.

There are lots of verbs of this sort, normally innocent actions that can be done with the intent to harm or anger someone else. Imagine the two scenarios below:

(disappointed) "You ate the last cookie, didn't you?"
(angry)"You ate the last cookie, didn't you?"

In the former, you ate the last cookie, but you probably just wanted a cookie. In the latter, the cookie was probably mine, and you ate it knowing that it was mine. Again, the only way to tell them apart is from context or tone of voice, and it's entirely appropriate to clarify the intent of the action with an adverb if needed.

  • If I say 'she let the cup drop and broke it'. Will this sentence convey the meaning that she did it deliberately ?
    – Leo
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 5:24
  • 3
    @Leo: I simply mean that comments and Jason's answer should have made it clear that only context can tell us whether she dropped the cup on purpose in your original example. And since your cited dictionary definition actually uses the word let in an example explicitly stated to be accidental, the answer to the question you've just asked Jason here should be equally obvious. You can let something happen by accident as well as deliberately. Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 5:46
  • Leo, she let the cup drop can also mean that she's seeing the cup on the edge of a table, about to fall. She did not care about it and let the cup fall. You see the difference?
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 6:36
  • @MaulikV - Yeah i guess i do
    – Leo
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 7:27
  • I disagree that, "She dropped the cup and broke it" contains a clue that the drop was intentional. In that context, drop seems unintentional; had she been meaning to break the cup, I'd probably say something more like, "She slammed the cup to the floor and broke it."
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 10:35

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