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A friend of mine is working in a gas-mining industry. In a colloquial conversations with English speakers about his work, he uses the word "gas".

In English, there are several distinct meanings for "gas", and two are highly confusing:

  1. A gaseous fuel, such as natural gas.
  2. Gasoline.

I have noticed different native English speakers understand the word "gas" differently and even don't suppose another meaning so it requires a longer explanation.

In his language (Russian), there are distinct words for "gas":

  • /gaz/ for "gaseous gas" and for a physical substance;
  • /benzin/ for "petrol";

How can this ambiguity be resolved when you want to convey the former meaning ("gaseous gas")? At the moment, I see him saying something like "gas, not the petrol", but it sounds a bit clunky.

P.S. If it is related, how do I say "fuel my car with gas", if a car has "gaseous gas" equipment, I mean those large red tanks in a trunk?

  • 5
    'Gas' only refers to 'Gasoline' in America. Brits say Petrol. – Liam W Jan 29 '13 at 19:05
  • That was the reason why I asked how to say it to a stranger. – bytebuster Jan 29 '13 at 19:11
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    It seems to me that lately a lot of questions have been arising relating to distinguishing between homonyms. The answer is always the same: If a word can have two meanings, the meaning is always determined by context, and if the context is still ambiguous, well, then ask. – Ken Bellows Feb 1 '13 at 1:40
  • @LiamW True, but mining for gas would (should) not mean petrol, since gasoline is made from oil. – Andy Aug 29 '16 at 23:11
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Gas to refer to gasoline, I believe is an U.S.-ism. In Canada, gasoline is called "petrol" (short for "petroleum"), and "gas" is reserved for, well, gas, and not liquids.

In the U.S., where gasoline is typically shortened to "gas", context is usually necessary to determine to which gas one is referring. When disambiguation is necessary, one would typically say "gasoline" or "natural gas" (or propane, or whatever type of actual gas is in use).

I'm reminded of a local Taco Bell ("Mexican" fast food chain popular in the U.S.) which advertised one summer:

Get gas for under $1!

A play on words, only possible in the U.S. where "gas" means gasoline. The implied meaning was "Buy gasoline for under $1 per gallon." The literal meaning was "Buy a bean burrito for under $1, and get digestive gas."

If you have a car that is fueled by gas, you would specify that:

My car is fueled by natural gas.

Or with the appropriate abbreviation, CNG (compressed natural gas) or LNG (liquified natural gas).

  • +1, it seems to be a good start. Does it matter that the gas is not natural any longer? It goes through a long chain of modifications before a car can be fueled with it. – bytebuster Jan 29 '13 at 17:10
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    @bytebuster: Very little that is labeled "natural" in the U.S. is very natural :) But yes, it's still called "natural gas"--although there are also propane-powered and hydrogen-powered vehicles which are distinct from natural-gas powered vehicles. – Flimzy Jan 29 '13 at 17:12
  • Australia too uses petrol, not gas. LNG: the 'L' is 'Liquefied'. Liquid ... Gas is an oxymoron. – mcalex Jan 29 '13 at 18:24
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    What about LPG? (Liquefied Propane Gas)? Is this abbreviation commonly understood in the US? – SF. Jan 30 '13 at 17:15
  • @SF: The truth is, anything other than "gasoline," "electric," and "hybrid" is not commonly understood in the U.S. Many people think I'm lying when I tell them I drive a diesel-powered car. I have only heard of one person, personally, who drove a propane-powered car (a home conversion), and I know of a few municipalities and national parks that use CNG-powered fleets. Beyond that, I'm not aware of anyone in the U.S. using these alternative fuels. I'm sure they exist somewhere, though, but are not common. – Flimzy Jan 30 '13 at 17:16
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Like any word in the dictionary with multiple meanings (and that applies to most words, actually), we must rely on context to disambiguate.

As you mentioned, gas actually has more meanings than the ones you list. Gas can mean:

  1. Gasoline (I need to put gas in my car)
  2. Fueled by natural gas (I want to have a gas stove in my next kitchen)
  3. A gaseous state, as opposed to liquid or solid (Oxygen is a gas at room temperature)
  4. Gastrointestinal gas, or flatulence (Avoid eating foods that will give you gas before flying)
  5. (slang) Something funny to think about ("But it's all right now, in fact it's a gas")

To answer your question, the two-word term natural gas is often used to refer to "a flammable gaseous hydrocarbon or hydrocarbon mixture (typically predominantly methane) used as a fuel, e.g. for cooking, heating, electricity generation or as a fuel in internal combustion engines in vehicles." (Definition from Wiktionary)

The website naturalgas.org says:

Natural gas is a combustible mixture of hydrocarbon gases. While natural gas is formed primarily of methane, it can also include ethane, propane, butane and pentane. The composition of natural gas can vary widely. In its purest form, such as the natural gas that is delivered to your home, it is almost pure methane.

In short, I would simply use the term natural gas to disambiguate the fuel from gasoline.

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    Seconding the +1, but I'd like to refine/expand definition #5. To me, a "gas" means something that is great fun, or a very good time: "That party was a gas!" This meaning lends itself to the pun: "Ever had nitrous oxide? It's a real gas!" – Evelyn Mar 18 '15 at 8:00
  • The "natural" in "natural gas" distinguishes a fuel that is piped out of the ground to its point of use, from "city gas" and "coal gas", which are manufactured. (Natural gas is sometimes compressed or liquefied to allow transportation in tanks or ships.) Natural gas is mostly methane. "City gas" and "coal gas" were typically manufactured from coal; they often contained large amounts of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, and other gases. – Jasper Jan 9 '16 at 19:49

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