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I passed the roadsign below while driving home late last night, and realised that despite how many times I had seen it, I was still surprised by the choice of words used and unsure if it was actually grammatically correct.

After all, the wording on roadsigns is crucial. As we all know, it needs to be clear and succinct.

So, to my mind the words

Road liable to flooding

should be

Road liable to flood

or it could be rewritten

Road prone to flooding

Am I right, or is the original ok?

photo of roadsign with text: Road liable to flooding

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In my opinion, "Beware of flooding" would be more immediately understandable because of its resemblance to "Beware of dog." –  skullpatrol Aug 2 '12 at 8:32
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@skullpatrol: Except that, in this case, there's really only a danger during a time of heavy rain (and perhaps a winter thaw, if the region is mountainous). In the case of the dog, we presume the dog is always ready to bite. But on a sunny day, we need not beware of anything on the road. Beware carries the connotation that we need always be on alert. –  J.R. Aug 2 '12 at 8:39
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Going by Google's results, @Urbycoz is not the first person to question the correctness of this sign. –  coleopterist Aug 2 '12 at 8:42
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@J.R. Would "Beware of possible flooding" be acceptable? –  skullpatrol Aug 2 '12 at 8:47
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What about this sign? :) –  asymptotically Aug 2 '12 at 9:39

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Road liable to flooding

The OED helpfully cites the above warning in its definition of liable:

[with infinitive] likely to do or to be something: patients were liable to faint if they stood up too suddenly

(liable to) likely to experience (something undesirable): areas liable to flooding

The word flooding is used here as a noun rather than the usual infinitive. The OED also supplies a similarly helpful entry for this form:

(as noun flooding) a serious risk of flooding

In other words, it's perfectly fine!

I suspect that flooding is preferred to just flood to avoid the ambiguity over what is flooding, as the word is not used only in reference to water. "Road liable to flood" could mean that the road itself could increase "in overwhelming quantities".

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Perfectly fine, but unusual. Guess that's why it felt wrong to me. That's fair enough then I suppose. –  Urbycoz Aug 2 '12 at 8:51
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"Liable," to me, has a legal connotation.Thus as shown by coleopterist above this leads to confusion. I believe that "Beware of possible flooding" is a better choice. –  skullpatrol Aug 2 '12 at 8:52
    
@Urbycoz: I have updated my answer to address your question. –  coleopterist Aug 2 '12 at 9:07
2  
@skullpatrol: Yes, liable has one definition that is closely associated with the legal profession, but it is also a synonym for apt or prone. I don't think it's right to disqualify a word just because it has a secondary meaning, particularly when confusion is unlikely in context. (Notice how I used right and just in that last sentence, which also have definitions pertaining to the legal system). No one is going to sue the road if it floods – although they might sue the highway department if no warning is provided :^) –  J.R. Aug 2 '12 at 9:08
    
The UK Highways Agency uses this form of words quite a lot. At least the triangle sign is descriptive in this version of a similar sign. –  Andrew Leach Aug 2 '12 at 10:48

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