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Well, this may come as a surprise to many but if your vitamin sirup is expired, you can actually pour it into your plants. True; such sirups with vitamins serve as the best fertilizers. I do that. However, I'm not here to prove this point. My question is related to the English language.

I know 'water' as a verb.

Water the plants

But then, I want to instruct my daughter about giving water to some and sirup to others. How do I say that?

Water the first two plants with water and rest with sirups?

I mean..."Water the plant with water" -does it work? If not, what are the other way to address my concern?

  • I don't know "sirup" (AmE). Is that like "syrup"? Syrup is a mass noun so there is no plural like "syrups". – user3169 Mar 3 '15 at 5:04
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    Is sirup a common spelling in India? As an American, I have only seen syrup before. (And the spell checker does not recognize sirup.) – Jasper Mar 3 '15 at 5:05
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    @user3169 -- "Syrups" means multiple kinds (or dilutions) of "syrup". This is consistent with Maulik's usage in the first paragraph. – Jasper Mar 3 '15 at 5:06
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    Watering can be done with substances that are not called water. For example, Thomas Jefferson famously stated "From time to time, the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots." And Tolkien wrote (in a poem) "red fell the dew in Rammas Echor." – Jasper Mar 3 '15 at 5:12
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    @user3169 "Syrup" is a mass noun, so "syrups" means "kinds of syrup". I've heard it in places like coffeehouses where they have a big battery of syrups on a shelf, waiting to be added to various concoctions. (AmE) – Ben Kovitz Mar 3 '15 at 5:24
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Your first guess:

Water the first two plants with water and the rest with sirups.

is perfect (except you need "the" before "rest").

As a verb, "to water plants" can stretch to refer to substances other than water.

Another example of the same thing is that you might say "Let's go out for coffee" when you have no intention of drinking coffee. Maybe you'll get tea, maybe some weird new drink they're selling, or maybe even just a cup of water along with a sandwich. "Coffee" is good enough to suggest the location: probably a coffeehouse.

ODO, American Heritage, Macmillan, Collins, and Wiktionary don't list the possibility of using "water" as a verb for substances other than water. This is because dictionaries can't give much idea of how far is reasonable to stretch a word from its primary meaning. One important reason why "to water plants" can stretch so easily to cover other substances is because there isn't any competing verb with a closer meaning.

Here are a few examples from gardening books.

On the other hand, this sounds weird:

Water the plants with water.

Since the primary meaning of "to water plants" is to give them water, this sounds redundant in a way that suggests that there might be a misunderstanding. For this sentence to make sense, there needs to be some context that establishes that watering the plants with something other than water is an idea up for discussion. The first sentence has that: it distinguishes between watering with water and watering with syrup.

By the way, I wrote "syrup" because it's more standard in American English (my native language), so I feel more comfortable with that spelling, but "sirup" is well represented in dictionaries, too.

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  • Your gardening link gives a load of references to water plants as in "plants growing in water", some about "supplying plants with water" (but not really about watering with non-water substitutes) and even a "set of machinery to clean water for consumption". Of course I realize that google results may vary greatly from one country to another or even from one day to the next. So, what exactly are you telling us here in your otherwise excellent (+1) post? – Stephie Mar 3 '15 at 10:22
  • @Stephie I love Google but hate their URLs! In the U.S., the URL brings up sentences in three books on gardening that say to "water with a solution" of something. It's to demonstrate that other people stretch the verb "water" in this same way, for the same purpose. I'll try to find a URL that works in all countries. Does anyone out there know how to do it? – Ben Kovitz Mar 3 '15 at 18:13
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Why could you not say this by using a synonym for the verb "water":

"Pour some water into the first two plants and syrup into the others."

You could use various synonyms of water/pour, but may have to reconstruct the sentence to allow for working with syrups (see below).

The whole point of synonyms in language is to assist in constructing sentences that are grammatical (including not being literally redundant), that also make sense contextually, and that express some distinct phenomena that language is to articulate.

In general usage the verb "water" will be used for any liquid, but this practice is practically nonsensical. If you asked someone to "water the plants" and they took out a can of petrol and poured some of its contents over the plants, you would be horrified. You would be equally dismayed if your male friend, in responding to the request, pulled down his pants and urinated on the plants.

I am not trying to be crude, just to make a point. Definitions work in two directions: connecting the abstract object and the actual object itself, and from the object back to the abstract. In the case of "water as any liquid", this obviously doesn't work. However, it does work if 'water the plants' means to pour water on them.

The idea of 'watering' with syrup doesn't stand either. Syrups are called such because they have a viscosity that is greater than water. Otherwise, there would have been no need to give them a particular noun all their own. You "pour" syrups and all other highly viscous liquids (honey, ketchup, oil, etc.). You can "pour" any liquid of any viscosity, but this is not the case in respect to "watering"- which in general usage is always used for low viscosity liquids.

I hope I provided an answer, but also some inconsistencies in general usage.

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Irrigate is the most appropriate term for what you want to say. In medical and other scientific terminology "irrigate" is used to mean wash or wet a certain object with a liquid that can be pure water or a solution.

Irrigate the first two plants with water and the rest with sirups.

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    this makes sense! +1 and as I read, this seems to be the most appropriate word. You are right! However, a little doubt...irrigation happens with channels and pipes! Anyway, thanks! :) – Maulik V Mar 3 '15 at 9:00
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    You don't need to have pipes or channels. You could also use a machine, sprinklers, or even a tub of water on a truck to do the same. (I used to live on a farm.) But you would need to have a large area- like in a garden,a field (pitch-British English), or a hydroponics lab where the manual aspect is limited. If you were manually giving water to a few plants at home, you would not use that word. – Gary Mar 3 '15 at 16:33
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    In AmE also, irrigation (of plants) implies a much broader scale of operations. One would water a small lawn, and irrigate a golf course. Water your garden plot, irrigate your acres of corn. There is some overlap but it is definitely not at the level of houseplants, which are two small to be irrigated. – Adam Mar 3 '15 at 19:38
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I think that the suggestion to use the word 'irrigate' is great, except that it's possibly too formal. It would be strange to hear in everyday speech and it would also be distracting to read in many contexts. Possible alternative: Give the first two plants some water, and give the sirups/syrups to the rest. The word 'give' implies that you will pour the syrups in the same way you'd pour water in and eliminates the clumsiness/renundancy of "water the plants with water''

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