The word 'shed' means

  1. a small structure for storage
  2. to cast off hair, skin

And I don't know which meaning is right for the sentence below. Here is the example (from 'Baker's blue-jay yarn' by Mark Twain)

You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does - but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you will hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw.

The words in bold is what I don't understand the meaning of exactly.

Does it mean

a cat fights with another cat on a shed (a small structure for storage) every night?


a cat fights with another cat every night while shedding (casting off hair)?

  • The preposition "on" in "on a shed" clearly indicates that you have the noun shed as in garden shed or tool shed, and not the verb to shed.
    – rogermue
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 6:02
  • 3
    @rogermue - It's easy to see how a learner might not find that such a "clear" indication, though. Consider: on a roll, on a tear, on fire – none of those expressions involve being on top of anything. I've not heard the expression on a shed to mean molting, but the concept is neither inconceivable nor beyond the limits of standard English syntax.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 12:04
  • A serpent can shed its skin, but you don't say "A cat sheds its hair or fur". oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/shed_2
    – rogermue
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 1:43
  • 1
    @rogermue you don't? My cat sheds fur like crazy every summer. I'm not even sure how else I'd explain it without saying "sheds". A dictionary not having the example you want doesn't mean it's not possible.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 4:56
  • Thanks@Catija, I didn't know this use of to shed.
    – rogermue
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 4:59

4 Answers 4


Shed as a noun almost always means "a storage building".

Shed as a verb almost always means "losing skin or something covering oneself".

If an article (a/an, the) precedes a word, that strongly indicates it's a noun. So a shed is a noun.

You might see a shedding which would almost always be the gerund/participle form of the verb to shed. This can mean "an event where shedding took place" or "item produced by the act of shedding."

I suppose there may be a tiny chance that to shed means "to put in a shed" but I can't recall ever actually hearing/reading that.


Remember that you're reading Twain, who writes in stylized vernacular, so some violations of standard English usage almost always exist. Pulling fur is not generally used to imply fighting but as it's used in Twain's sentence its meaning can be inferred. With that in mind, that is a very important comma in your highlighted words.

pulling fur...on a shed, nights, -- means the cats fight on a shed at night and this happens at regular intervals

Drop the first comma and the indefinite article...

pulling fur...on shed nights, -- now the cats pull out each other's fur on nights when they are shedding. It's implied in this usage that fur loss is due to shedding not to fighting. Perhaps the cats are helping each other?

You could also tweak it...

pulling fur...on a shed night, -- a reference to a general instance of cats pulling out each other's fur on a night when they are shedding. Once again fur loss is due to shedding.


It means this, except at night:


Note the link shows a photo on flickr of two cats on a shed, fighting. Twain says "get to pulling fur with another cat" to mean "fighting." So one or both gets might lose some fur because it is fighting, but this is not what Twain means.

Twain means "on a shed" as in "on top of a shed." Cats like to hang out on the top of sheds, because this gives them a higher vantage point to observe things.

You can also do an image search for 'cat on a shed' and find plenty of examples.


It probably means that they fight on a shed, not while shedding.

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