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Is this sentence, "The cat paws in the water to get the fish" grammatically correct?

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Mitch, Hellion, sumelic, Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 16 at 0:35

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  • 4
    If you interpret "paws" as a verb then it's "correct". – Hot Licks Jan 15 at 13:24
  • Semantically, the example doesn't really work for me. I could go with The cat claws in the water to get the fish, since both paw and claw can be "verbified" in this way. And I can understand The cat paws the mouse because cats often like to play with their murine victim for a long time, so they keep their claws retracted while batting it about on land, to prevent early death and the end of the game. But patting a fish around under water doesn't seem like a credible action to me. – FumbleFingers Jan 15 at 13:39
  • @FumbleFingers Interesting; to me it’s quite the opposite. Paw works well for me here, since pawing can describe motion through a medium, like air or water, with no contact (though I can’t say I’ve ever observed or known cats to actually do that in water to catch fish – bears do, though). Claw, on the other hand, requires sustained contact with the target: a cat claws you when it runs its claws up your arm, but not when it takes a swipe at you and doesn’t hit, or when trying to catch a fish in water. That’s just pawing in the air/water trying to claw. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 16 at 0:40
  • @Janus: Good point about the bears. Sure someone must know whether they have their claws extended when they're scooping salmon for dinner out of the river. I used to have a cat that pawed on the glass of our fish tank - but if we hadn't had a lid on the thing, I bet he'd have tried to claw the poor goldfish out! :) – FumbleFingers Jan 16 at 13:07
  • @FumbleFingers Probably they do, but that's incidental to me – a cat or a bear can paw with their claws out. Clawing to me is a form of scratching (some sort of surface), whereas pawing, in addition to actually bumping a paw against something, can also be just the act of moving a limb in a ‘paw-like’ manner, contact or no contact. The scooping motion through the water is only clawing to me if the claws actually make contact with and scratch something in the water. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 16 at 13:12
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The cat paws in the water to get the fish.

The sentence is grammatical but unusual.


The verb paw has an intransitive form:

[Merriam-Webster]

intransitive verb

4 : to flail or grab wildly

The dictionary also provides an example sentence that uses paws intransitively:

// She pawed through her purse to find her cell phone.

The verb tense aside, she pawed through her purse is the same construction as the cat paws in the water. It describes somebody (or something) who simply paws—and then follows it with a prepositional phrase.


I would not say that the sentence is common—normally the transitive form of the verb would be used—but it's not wrong.

Note that the meaning of the sentence (in its intransitive form) is something like the following:

The cat flailed in the water in an attempt to get the fish.


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The sentence could be understood as "The cat's paw is in the water." The sentence in quotes adds a missing possessive and a verb to denote the presence of the cat's paw in the water.

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