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The boat was low to the water. - What does it mean? Does it mean that only a small part of the boat was under water? Or does it mean that the boat deck was near the water level? Or something else? Thanks a lot for your help.

  • When I say I am tall to the wall, it gives me the sense that I am too tall for the wall that there is disproportionality. So I think, I am not sure, that the boat is under the water level. – Ghaith Alrestom Nov 11 '15 at 18:26
  • @GhaithAlrestom That is not a good English sentence, at least not in AmE. Where are you from? – Azor Ahai Nov 11 '15 at 21:54
  • @PressTilty why is it not a good English sentence? I live in the US but from Syria – Ghaith Alrestom Nov 11 '15 at 21:56
  • Because it doesn't sound good, basically. When comparing qualities of two objects, you would always use the comparative taller. The OP's phrase is colloquial, and its structure can't be generalized to other instances. – Azor Ahai Nov 11 '15 at 21:58
  • I think you can say "You are tall to William" meaning to William's height, you are tall." I know it is a sloppy use of English but nevertheless it is used – Ghaith Alrestom Nov 11 '15 at 22:37
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I can see why you'd be confused here.

The boat being low to the water would look like this (excuse the poor drawing - this is the extent of my drawing abilities):

boat low to the water

This, in contrast, is a boat that is not low to the water:

boat NOT low to the water

The boat that is "low to the water" has its upper rim close to the level of the water. In other words, it has sunken in more. This could happen if the load of the boat is heavier, for example.

"Low in the water" is a much more common choice, but "low to the water" seems to be a possible options as well. I would prefer "low in the water," as "low to the water" isn't quite as common as the other usage, especially in regular conversation.

See the Google n-gram for these two phrases here.

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    I think that's what the writer probably meant, but it's a strange phrase to my ear. I would expect to see that boat called low in the water, not low to the water. – stangdon Nov 11 '15 at 21:16
  • @stangdon low in the water sounds more like what I would say when on a boat with a friend or uncle. Low to the water is more for storying telling and setting a scene, to me. – Alex K Nov 11 '15 at 23:58
  • @AlexK A native speaker would say "low in the water" in any case. – MetaEd Nov 12 '15 at 0:33
  • @MετάEd I agree with you. I would say "low in the water" every time. The only place I would imagine this would be in a written narrative that is in a more formal style. See the link I added to my answer to see the frequency of both phrases. – Alex K Nov 12 '15 at 0:38
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    @MετάEd I think it may be mixing between "low to the ground," and "low in the water." "Low in the water" makes more sense, as the boat is actually in the water, but at the same time, if you're talking about the actual level of the water, I can see why somebody could write "low to the water." Either way, both are using according to the Google n-gram. – Alex K Nov 12 '15 at 0:42
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SUPPLEMENTAL TO ALEX K's answer (upvote his answer, not this one!)

I'm not an expert on maritime usage, my knowledge being mostly confined to Hornblower and Aubrey novels. But I would have said that although both expressions versions express what Alex K describes, a boat whose height above the water is unusually small —

  • low in the water is what linguists call a "stage-level predicate": a temporary attribute of the boat. It describes a vessel whose freeboard (the height of the hull) above the water is lower than usual, presumably because the vessel is heavily laden.

  • low to the water is an "individual-level predicate", a permanent attribute of the boat. It describes a vessel whose freeboard and superstructure are less elevated than those of other vessels of the same sort.

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