Why do people use bottled drinking water instead of bottled drunk water?

I am puzzled by the two sentences.

I am drinking some water.

Some water is being drunk.

I know they are the same meaning, within just one family of objects and subjects.

Clearly, water can only be drunk, it cannot be drinking.

  • 2
    it is not “drinking” it is for “drinking”
    – Unreason
    Aug 4, 2011 at 9:20
  • 2
    drunk water is water that has been drunk
    – Rory Alsop
    Aug 4, 2011 at 9:53
  • 3
    I wouldn't be too keen on buying "drunk water". How would it have been obtained? Regurgitation? Urination? Perspiration? Thanks, but no thanks! :) Aug 4, 2011 at 16:59
  • @FumbleFingers - I have some bad news for you... Aug 10, 2011 at 10:13
  • 1
    '"What's so unpleasant about being drunk?" "You ask a glass of water."' (Douglas Adams) Oct 5, 2011 at 10:48

5 Answers 5


To build on Unreason's answer, the phrase X-ing Noun parses like Noun for X-ing

  • Drinking Water (Water for Drinking)
  • Running Shoes (Shoes for Running)
  • Bathing Suit (Suit for Bathing)
  • etc

Like other bits of the English language, there is a bit of variation which leads to things like swim suit and race track, but that is the general rule.

  • I could use a pair of running shoes that runs instead of me. The problem is how I can buy them: Do I need to run after them to buy them?
    – apaderno
    Aug 8, 2011 at 20:39
  • Even 'swim suit' is often called 'swimming suit'.
    – Lynn
    Nov 5, 2011 at 19:57

It's the same reason why it's called racing tracks and not raced tracks.

Generally, when describing an object by the action that takes place on it, the present participle is used e.g. flying trapeze(not flown trapeze), weighing bridge(not weighed bridge).

However, if describing a thing by an action that has already taken place, the past participle may be used e.g. Processed water(water that has already been processed), edited question, etc.

In this case, as the action has not yet taken place(bottled drinking water), the present participle is used.

P.S. Of course, the present verb can also be used as an adjective e.g. walkway, runway, etc.


I think1 that in the phrases

  • running shoes
  • swimming suit
  • drinking water

you have noun compounds (main noun is pre-modified with a gerund).

As Harrold says, drinkable water works, but it is not the same - drinkable water means only that it can be used for drinking, but drinking water means it is normally used for drinking. Consider the following to feel the difference:

Are you bathing in drinkable water where you live now?
No, the tap water is really unsafe, we actually bathe with drinking water.

Also, in my other examples you can not switch to adjective: “runnable” shoes and “swimable” suit are awkward, ambiguous and not in use.

EDIT: Another example could be

  • washing shoes: shoes you use when doing laundry (washing)
  • washable shoes: shoes that you can wash

1Not a native speaker


Because the adjective drunk means affected by alcohol to the extent of losing control of one's faculties or behavior. The proper adjective would be drinkable, I would say. Bottled drinking water is bottled water intended for drinking.

  • Thank you, but how about my examples. Aug 4, 2011 at 8:45
  • 3
    Drunk doesn't always mean "affected by alcohol." As Thursagen implies, it can also be the past participle of drink. So, "the water was drunk by the cat" is grammatically correct, and "I was drunk on gin" is grammatically correct, but they use different meanings of drunk.
    – Nicholas
    Aug 4, 2011 at 9:08

I would translate "drinking water" as "water FOR drinking."

You would not say, "water for DRUNK."

As above, "running shoes" = "shoes for running."

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