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I have this doubt now that I'm writing down a translation of a text: the word "birth" can be either a noun or a verb, but its usage in different sentences is not completely clear to me.

For example, if we are talking about a dog, I could say "Dog birth" using the word as a noun, or "Dog birthing" using it as a verb, but then, if I want to use a present time verb I would like to say "The dog births", third person, singular, and its the dog who births, not her mother who gives her birth.

Now back to the question, is the sentence "The dog births" correct and commonly usable, or is it better to use "X gives birth to Y"?

EDIT for specific case:

"The dog gives birth to a happy puppy" is the starting sentence, present form, but here the dog is the subject, while I want to be the puppy to be it, like in the bad-sounding "The happy puppy births from (?) the dog", I mantained "from the dog" just for reference to the main sentence, but the aim is exactly to avoid the "birth-giver" subject and result in a simple "The happy puppy births".

We already stated (in answers and comments) that while not incorrect, its not commonly used, so are there alternatives in the sentence construction that don't need altering the present o the "birth" verb?

  • It would be easier to answer this question if you'd just come out and give an entire example sentence to evaluate. I've never heard "The dog births" in my life, nor have I heard "X gives birth to Y." But if you gave a more tangible example, such as, "The dog birthed four puppies last month," well, now we can have a good discussion. – J.R. Apr 4 '13 at 9:04
  • I've never heard of "The dog births" too, that's why I had the doubt about the usage of this form, but I've heard of "The dog gave birth to four puppies last month", and taking this example, I need a verbal form to make the puppy (single one in my case) the subject, instead of the dog... :) – Frhay Apr 4 '13 at 9:10
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    Yes, put that in your question – that's what I'm exhorting you to do. Otherwise, we're all dancing around the issue, trying to guess how you might use this. – J.R. Apr 4 '13 at 9:16
  • Done, is it better this way? – Frhay Apr 4 '13 at 10:46
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The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for birth as a verb, and defines it as ‘To give birth to; to give rise to.’ That means that in principle the form ‘births’ is grammatically possible. In practice, however, it would be unusual, and you’d do much better to use the alternative you suggest.

  • Thanks... and what if the birthing subject is birthing by itself, with no other subject being assignable to a "Gives birth" form? Is there an alternative? :) – Frhay Apr 4 '13 at 9:00
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    If I understand you correctly, I think you need to say The puppy was born last month. – Barrie England Apr 4 '13 at 9:14
  • So again we're falling back in the past form of the verb, while I was looking for the present one... :) – Frhay Apr 4 '13 at 10:40
  • Then I'm not sure what it is you're trying to say. In the present it would be The puppy is being born this very minute, but it's not often you would need to say such a thing. – Barrie England Apr 4 '13 at 11:56
  • Or is born (present simple passive). You could say The happy puppy is born. This is probably only idiomatic in the historic present, though. – snailcar Apr 4 '13 at 12:03
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The word birth can indeed be used as a verb; however, that usage is somewhat rare. Most people would find it more natural to say:

The dog had puppies.

or perhaps:

The dog delivered puppies.

If you look up had in the dictionary, you'll find that it means to have given birth to (although you might need to look hard to find that, because the word has several meanings; for example, this page shows it near the bottom of a very long list of possible usages). Nonetheless, I believe that's the most natural and common way to say it.

EDIT:

If you wanted the puppy to be the subject, and say the sentence in the present tense, I believe this would be grammatical:

The puppy is being birthed at this very moment.

but I think that would sound a bit awkward. By the time everyone figures out what you're trying to tell them it might be too late to keep using the present tense, and you'd have shift to the past:

The puppy was just born.

  • Thanks for the samples on the possible synonym, but I would like keeping the term "birth" and see if it can still be used, even if I'm understanding that "birth" actually is almost never used as a verb in present form... :) – Frhay Apr 4 '13 at 10:48
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    +1 for By the time everyone figures out what you're trying to tell them it might be too late to keep using the present tense, and you'd have shift to the past: :) – FumbleFingers Apr 4 '13 at 15:42
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Since in a comment you say you want to make the puppy the subject of the phrase, then you should use "the puppy was born."
That is similar to when I would say "I was born in 1970"; it means my mother gave birth to me during 1970.

  • Thanks for the answer, but then you're using the past form, if I want the present like "The dog is on the table" -> "The dog births on the table" it sounds weird... :) – Frhay Apr 4 '13 at 10:40
  • I use the past tense since you normally talk of a event happened in the past. I am not sure the present can be used with born; I can imagine a sentence like "The puppy is born now." but I am not sure if now is used for events happened few moments ago. – kiamlaluno Apr 4 '13 at 10:49
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    @kiamlaluno, your comment reminds me of some Christmas carols: "Christ the Savior is born". For puppies in the present tense, I'd probably say, "The puppy is being born," or maybe even, "The puppy is being born right now." – J.R. Apr 4 '13 at 14:15
  • @kiamlaluno: it should be "I was born on March 18", not in. – Steve Melnikoff Apr 4 '13 at 17:35
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    @SteveMelnikoff Right, I was going to write "I was born in 1970," but then changed my mind, and wrote the full date. :) – kiamlaluno Apr 4 '13 at 17:46
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As others have said, the verb "to birth" is much rarer than "to give birth (to)". Also, "to birth" is always transitive, so "the dog births" is not a full sentence because there is no object.

But the main issue here IMO is one of tense. "The dog births puppies" is correct English but probably not what you mean. This is the present indefinite tense, which normally indicates something happens often, but not necessarily right now. "Bob eats meat" means he is not vegetarian; "Bob is eating meat" means he is doing so as we speak (present progressive tense).

So you probably want "the dog is birthing puppies", or, more commonly, "the dog is giving birth to puppies".

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