According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a dogfight means:

1 : a fight between dogs

broadly : a fiercely disputed contest

2 : a fight between two or more fighter planes usually at close quarters

But dog fighting is not defined in the same dictionary but in a wiki as:

a type of blood sport generally defined as two or more game dogs against one another in a ring or a pit for the entertainment of the spectators or the gratification of the dogfighters, who are sometimes referred to as dogmen.

Is there any reason for using the -ing form fighting for the latter while using the base form fight for the former?

  • Because they refer to different things. "Dog fighting" is, unfortunately, an entertainment, while a "dogfight" (non-aircraft version) is simply an unfortunate occurrence.
    – Robusto
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 2:57
  • @Robusto It's a no-brainer that different forms mean different things, which I have also shown in the question. The question is not why different forms mean different things, but why a specific form means a specific thing but not the other way around.
    – JK2
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 3:03
  • 3
    'Dog fighting' is a so-called sport. 'A dogfight' would be a single instance of this (or an unplanned fight between pet dogs). Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 8:39
  • 1
    @KJ2: "Why" questions often get little or no attention here because unless well phrased they can be either too simple or unanswerable. In this case, however many brains you claim to have put to the task, the answer is perhaps too obvious.
    – Robusto
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 13:31
  • You could ask "why" about lots of anomalies in English - it's just the way it developed!
    – TrevorD
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


When a noun is used as the head of a compound, its meaning doesn't generally change too much. A dogfight is a kind of fight, and dog fighting is a kind of fighting.

There's a difference in meaning between fight and fighting. The word fight is used as a count noun that often refers to a specific single event. The word fighting, when it is used as a noun and not as a gerund/participle, is typically a non-count noun that refers to the action or activity of fighting in a general sense. That kind of non-count, abstract sense is usual for -ing nouns: there's a similar difference in meaning between the nouns jump and jumping, run and running, play and playing, walk and walking. If you already know all this and are asking why -ing nouns typically have this kind of abstract meaning, I don't know how to answer that. There certainly are some -ing nouns that can be used as count nouns that refer to an event: e.g. a whipping, an unmasking. But for whatever reason, we don't use *a fighting like this.

The OED indicates that the noun fight has an obsolete sense as a mass noun referring to "The action of fighting". From an etymological standpoint, it seems that fight is originally a verb, and the nouns fight and fighting represent different deverbalizations. I don't know whether that is relevant to the meaning of the noun fighting.

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