Is this sentence correct?

The water had overflowed under the bridge.

I think its 'overflowed' shouldn't be in the place, but it seems like my friend sitting beside me is not in sure about this.

  • 2
    Welcome to ELL! Can you edit to tell us what part of the sentence you're asking about (verb tenses? prepositions? articles? something else?) and what the sentence is supposed to mean? Jun 4, 2016 at 17:54
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    If the water is still under the bridge, in what sense might it have overflowed? Jun 4, 2016 at 18:07
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    @FumbleFingers It presumably overflowed its banks, under the bridge.
    – mattdm
    Jun 4, 2016 at 18:40
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    @mattdm Then it would be "overflowed its banks," not "overflowed under the bridge."
    – Usernew
    Jun 5, 2016 at 14:18
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    Why? There is no rule which says that "overflowed" must be followed by a description of what was overflowed. It can just be.
    – mattdm
    Jun 5, 2016 at 15:24

3 Answers 3


This sentence is both correct and makes perfect sense.

"The water had overflowed" is, on the face of it, fine. Overflowed means to spill beyond capacity, and that's definitely a thing water sometimes does.

It's often followed by a description of what was overflowed, but there's no rule that says that has to be the case. Instead, here, the prepositional phrase "under the bridge" describes where the overflow happened.

Since it is rather normal for water to be under bridges, that's not at all surprising. More context would make it completely clear, but without that, I assume that a river or stream overflowed its banks below a high bridge.

Like this:

Tim Heaton (CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)[1]

Or, alternately, it could be a bridge over a road, and water may have overflowed onto that road (or, using a slightly alternate meaning of "overflowed", simply overflowed the road). Like this:

© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under (CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0))

  • 1
    I think it would be more natural to say "The creek (or river or stream) had overflowed under the bridge." A cup overflows, rivers overflow, toilets overflow, eyes overflow with tears - water doesn't really overflow unless it overflows something, like "The water overflowed the dam."
    – ColleenV
    Jun 5, 2016 at 11:36
  • @ColleenV In this sense, "the water" is just a broader word for "the creek or river or stream or other". Definition #2 from merriam-webster.com/dictionary/water.
    – mattdm
    Jun 5, 2016 at 11:46
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    I'm not saying you're wrong, just what seems more natural to me. It's fine to say "The water flowed under the bridge.", but overflowed is different to me. When I read "the water overflowed" I expect after that to read what it overflowed, not where it overflowed so the sentence seems strange (but not necessarily incorrect).
    – ColleenV
    Jun 5, 2016 at 11:55

Overflow means to flow over the edge of something. For example "the water had overflowed the dam" or "the water had overflowed the blocked toilet" are both correct.

To say "the water had overflowed under the bridge" does not seem to make sense. If you are describing water such as a river moving under a bridge, "the water flowed under the bridge" would be the usual form.


The water had overflowed under the bridge.

If we remove the bold part, then the sentence will be correct and will thus make sense.

But that would also mean that the bridge drowned. Like this:

enter image description here

But the best bet is to say it otherwise. Like, you can say:

The water level of the river rose, or
The water level of the river rose to abnormal heights

You can also say, "the river is flooding." If you specifically want to use "overflowed," then either remove the word "under" or mention what it overflowed under the bridge. Here is an excerpt from a book:

To the right a small pond overflowed under the bridge into the widening reservoir to the left.

I am not saying that your sentence is incorrect. Water can very well overflow under a bridge, but you need to mention what it overflowed.

More context would narrow down the situation.

  • Your new sentence is also correct, but changes the meaning. It certainly isn't a correct way to say what the original sentence says.
    – mattdm
    Jun 5, 2016 at 15:27
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    @mattdm But without context, it's hard to say what's correct or not. The OP is not a native speaker, indian-english tag, and it can be a mistake, or maybe a simple misunderstanding of the word "overflowed" or something. Also note that the author chose the word "water" over "river' if that's what they are talking about. We normally say "river is flooding" or "...river overflowed," but "water overflowed under the bridge" is rightly wrong to me(within this context).
    – Usernew
    Jun 6, 2016 at 7:01
  • But since it's perfectly intelligible and legitimate without context, it seems bizarre to jump to the assumption that it is incorrect and means something else.
    – mattdm
    Jun 6, 2016 at 8:03

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