I can say "My bag contains an apple", using "contain" as a transitive verb that takes the container as its subject and the thing contained as its direct object.

My question is, is there a verb such that I could describe exactly the same situation by saying "An apple VERBS my bag"? This verb, if it exists, would take the thing contained as its subject and the container as its direct object.

I can think of several multi-word phrases to express this idea, for instance, "An apple is inside my bag", "An apple can be found within my bag", or, using the passive of "contain", "An apple is contained by my bag". But no single verb.

The nearest I can think of is the verb "to fill". But "An apple fills my bag" implies both that there is no other item in the bag and there is no space left in the bag. I'm looking for a verb that does not imply anything about what else the bag may or not contain or about whether any empty space is left in the bag, just that the apple is in the bag.

I feel as if there is some obvious word on the tip of my tongue, but it just won't come to me!

  • 1
    The apple is in the bag. You need a preposition, not a verb, since neither bag nor apple are doing anything, they are just existing in a relationship that requires a preposition to express the relationship. If you reject the concept of containment, then you are left with just the concept of existence, which requires the verb to be.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 13:03
  • @NigelJ, I grant you that "an apple is in my bag" expresses the idea perfectly well. I said as much when I cited "an apple is inside my bag" as being a multi-word phrase that meant the same as what I was looking for. But we do have the verb "to contain" despite the fact that the relationship between bag and apple involves neither of them doing anything, just existing in a relationship. It seems strange that there should be a verb to express the relationship that way round, but only a preposition for the other way round. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 13:08
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    I'm not at all sure it is strange that there's a verb to express the relationship one way and "only" a preposition for the other; these relationships aren't always neatly paired with equivalent constructions... language's architect isn't that pedantic about those sort of things. There are verbs you can use but are they natural-sounding constructions? Probably not - at least, any I can think of. Whether you find an answer you're happy with or not, this question has a distinctly odd premise behind it.
    – tmgr
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 13:53
  • I'm not sure if you're trying to avoid passive constructions entirely, but FWIW (not much, if you ask me), you might try: An apple is held by my bag. But in is better.
    – tmgr
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 14:03
  • @Laurel, well spotted that the question 'Converse of "contains"?' is a duplicate of my question. Unfortunately neither of the two options "That solved my problem" or "No, my question is different" exactly meets my situation. The other question is not different from mine, but it didn't solve my problem either. Of its three answers, the most upvoted one is simply wrong. Meaning no disrespect to the answerer, "encapsulate" is not the converse of contain, it is a synonym of it. The two other... Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 16:55

2 Answers 2


Perhaps occupy?

2: to take up (a place or extent in space)
this chair is occupied
the fireplace will occupy this corner of the room
from m-w.com

  • Ooh, that's very close and may well be it. "An apple occupies my bag" certainly does express the idea of "subject verbs container" without the unwanted extra implications of "fills". I believe that the correct procedure for Stack Exchange questions is to wait a couple of days before accepting an answer, to see if anyone else wants to suggest something. So I won't accept it just yet. But I think you probably have answered my question - and only eleven minutes after I asked it, despite it having bugged me for days! Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 13:15
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    But a cow can occupy a field or a mayfly can occupy a few millimetres of atmosphere. The concept of containment is lost completely and even the concept of 'within-ness' is lost with occupy (I would say). Containment is an active concept and being contained is a passive concept, intrinsically.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 14:07
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    I think a field can contain one or more cows, just as the atmosphere may contain many bugs. Seems to me containment can be passive as well. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 16:51

I’d use the word “inhabit” as for me it communicates thats its inside your bag (or takes up space) yet not necessarily the only thing there. i was also thinking “haunts” as a long second.

  • Both would work in humour. My handbag is inhabited by many unexpected things and may well even be haunted. But both verbs suggest that the thing doing them is... well, my initial word choice of "animate" won't do for a ghost, but at any rate conscious. I had independently thought of "possessed" as in demonic possession as a single verb taking a direct object and meaning "to be within". However a demonically possessed handbag is a little more exciting than the concept I had in mind with the apples. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 17:14

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