The sentence in the title is from a piece of news online:

Based on the debris field, the aircraft appears to have struck the rock sea wall well before the start of the runway. There are some marks on the sea wall, consistent with an impact of some part of the plane. Some aircraft debris ended up in the water.
What we don't know: Did the flight crew simply land the aircraft short?

I've looked up the Merriam-Webster dictionary and have found that "short" has the following meanings as an adverb:

1 : in a curt manner
2 : for or during a brief time short-lasting
3 : at a disadvantage : UNAWARES caught short
4 : in an abrupt manner : SUDDENLY the car stopped short
5 : at some point or degree before a goal or limit aimed at or under consideration the shells fell short; quit a month short of graduation
6 : clean across the axle was snapped short
7 : by or as if by a short sale

I think both (1) and (4) make sense. Nevertheless I would like to know which one is more accurate in such context. Could somebody explain the differences between (1) and (4)?

  • 1
    5 : at some point or degree before a goal or limit aimed at: the shells fell short
    – mplungjan
    Jul 10 '13 at 11:38
  • 3
    It means "short of [reaching] the runway"; prematurely; they were aiming to 'touch down' sooner than appropriate.
    – TrevorD
    Jul 10 '13 at 11:48
  • 1
    Difference between (1) & (4): only people can be curt. The example shows that (4) is not restricted to people.
    – TrevorD
    Jul 10 '13 at 11:51

You are looking the the 5th meaning:

at some point or degree before a goal or limit aimed at: the shells fell short

Real life example:

Private plane lands short of Charlotte runway

The 1st meaning only applies to human emotion.

She seemed a little short with me after I cancelled our date

The 4th meaning does not apply here if the plane did not actually reach the runway. The plane of course stopped short too, but that was when it hit the rocks instead of the strip they landed short of


The meaning in the story is meaning 5, as others have pointed out. To answer your question about the difference between meanings 1 and 4: Meaning 1 could be understood as rudely or angrily. It therefore applies to the tone or emotion of an interaction between people. On the other hand, meaning 4 is best understood as "suddenly", just as it says in the definition. This meaning has to do with the rate at which an event occurs.


Every plane approaching a runway to land is supposed to follow a glide slope ie a point in the flight where the pilot puts the plane into a descent. A particular rate of descent or falling or slope is supposed to be maintained so that the plane touches down just at the beginning of the runway.

Now, generally falling short means to not hit a mark or intended target or goal or aim. That is meaning 5 above. However, if the plane descended too quickly meaning 4 can apply and that will still make meaning 5 valid.

In other words, the plane's descent was rather abrupt or too quick (as opposed to a gentle descent/slope) and that made the plane fall short ie hit the ground well before the runway; it didn't make it to the runway. Instead it hit the wall and some part of the plane broke of.

The plane ultimately crashed and debris was strewn all over. The pattern of the scatter is what revealed where the plane first hit.

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