You probably interact with water every day, even if you aren’t aware of it. Because water is so important in our daily lives, it’s also crucial in language!
The word water has both literal and metaphorical meanings, and there are many phrases and idioms that use water to describe something. Collocations with water are plentiful – just see below!
Types of water (literally)
Because there are so many ways that you can describe water, it is very easy to get confused. These are some common adjectives that help you understand how it is being described.
The water’s edge
If you are standing at the edge of a body of water looking into it, you are standing at the water’s edge. This is usually used to describe smaller bodies of water, like ponds and lakes, but can be used for oceans and seas. If you are on a beach but not right next to the water, the water’s edge usually does not describe you.
- To really get a good look at the starfish in the water, you have to stand at the water’s edge.
- The mother thought that standing at the water’s edge to take pictures of her children would prevent her from getting wet herself, but her son splashed her with water anyways.
The water in the ocean, which is full of salt and other minerals, is salt water. Water that has any amount of salt in it can be considered salt water. Most of the world’s water is salt water, which can also be written as one word, saltwater, without changing the meaning. Salt water can be a noun or adjective.
- Even if you are extremely thirsty, don’t drink salt water. It can dehydrate you even more.
- It always feels uncomfortable to have the salt from evaporated salt water on your skin after you get up from swimming in the ocean.
The opposite of salt water is fresh water, which is used to describe water that is pure, and does not have salts. Humans can only drink fresh water, and some marine life survive only in fresh water. Freshwater can be used as a noun or adjective.
- Only about 3% of the world’s water is fresh water, and most of that water is trapped in frozen glaciers.
- It’s important to conserve fresh water because there is so little of it in the world.
- I have some freshwater fish in my house.
In some streams and rivers that flow downhill, the water can flow extremely fast. In the cases in which water flows fast enough to create white waves, it is called white water. The phrase is commonly used to describe extreme sports like white water rafting, where people raft down these fast-flowing waters for entertainment. White water can also be written as whitewater, as both the noun and adjective.
- It’s dangerous to be trapped in white water, because the force of water is actually very large.
- I have never been whitewater rafting, but my brother swears that it’s the most enjoyable thing he has ever done.
- You only get white water where there are lots of mountains and valleys.
Water that comes out of the faucet and usually has been purified is running water. This phrase is usually used to describe a luxury of the developed world, in contrast to places where you have to get water from large wells or other water containers.
- When I went camping with my Girl Scout Troop, we didn’t even have running water!
- Most people don’t think of it that way, but having running water, hot and cold, at all times of the day is a real luxury.
A solution to not having running water is using a lot of bottled water instead. You can buy water that is already packaged in bottles, which is often safer than water that comes from the faucet.
- You are not allowed to bring bottled water on the plane, even if you have not opened the bottle yet.
- Apparently, bottled water is one of the most expensive types of liquids in the world – more expensive than oil!
A special type of bottled water that contains different types of nutrients is mineral water. Most of the time, the extra nutrients are artificially added, even if the label says something different. Much of the bottled water that is sold in restaurants is mineral water.
- I would rather drink tap water than mineral water.
- Yan has no idea whether mineral water is actually healthier than other types of water, but he buys a lot of it anyways.
Popular in many European cafes, sparkling water is usually lightly carbonated and served from a bottle. Most types have some very light flavoring, often with fruit, but usually lacks any sugar. The default water in some European restaurants is sparkling water.
- I think the carbonation of sparkling water is the best!
- I really wish they would serve regular water since I hate sparkling water.
The opposite of sparkling water and carbonation is flat water, which is not carbonated. Because flat water is the default state of water, most of the time calling it flat water is unnecessary. Using this term is usually just to call attention to the contrast between it and sparkling or other carbonated drinks.
- In European countries such as France, you have to specify that you want flat water or else they will give you sparkling water by default.
- I really hate when soda goes flat, but I definitely prefer flat water to sparkling water.
- After having sparkling water, it seems boring to go back to drinking flat water.
Hard water is usually a term used in water purification or any conversation related to water pipes. It refers to water that is filled with natural solutes, or substances that are dissolved in it. Sometimes, hard water must be treated before it is filtered through pipes because the minerals in the water can build up in water pipes and cause them to stop up.
- It’s a costly process but the hard water that comes must be purified before we send it back out for regular people to use in their homes.
- Hard water can really damage your water pipes, so make sure you are careful to prevent that from happening.
Another common type of water is tap water, or water that comes from the faucet directly. Tap is another word for faucet, so any water that comes directly from the piped supply is known as tap water.
- In most developed countries, tap water is safe to drink.
- If you are unsure about the safety, don’t drink the tap water.
Water that is not clear, usually because it has mud, algae, and dirt in it, is murky. Even though clear water is not always cleaner than murky water, the murkiness of the water often makes it appear dirtier.
- To clean most water supplies in the wild, let the murky water sit for a while to filter out the sand and creatures in it.
- Most people reach for the clear water than the murky water, but bacteria that make you sick are microscopic, so you can’t tell which water is actually safer to drink.
Shallow water has a literal meaning – the opposite of deep. If water is shallow, you can usually see through it to the bottom. However, if you compare it to a very deep body of water such as the ocean, you could say that any water shallower than that is shallow water.
- Let the infants go to the kiddie pool; the shallow water there makes it less likely for anything bad to happen.
- Murky water will make anything look deep, even if it is actually shallow water.
A water table is a layer of water under the surface of the ground. It stores rainwater that has trickled through the ground, and can be piped up to use. Water from the water table is usually purified already because it has to seep through the tiny cracks of layers of rocks, so many wells directly tap into this water source.
- The water table under our city is extensive, so we haven’t been impacted by the drought as much.
- Water tables can only be formed in places where the rock is porous, or allows water to seep through, such as limestone.
To be in hot water
If you are in hot water, you are in major trouble. This means that you have done something wrong and are about to be yelled at by a boss, parent, significant other, etc. Usually, this is used to describe a sudden or temporary problem.
- The politician was in hot water after he completely turned on his campaign promises.
- The media made sure to talk about the CEO’s mistake so much that the whole nation knew he was in hot water.
Throw cold water on something
If you really don’t appreciate what someone else is doing or saying, you can throw cold water on it to decrease other peoples’ enthusiasm for it. While you can do this because the thing you are disparaging is bad in itself, throwing cold water is usually done out of jealousy or spite.
- Jack was really throwing cold water on Jane’s new company, so we knew something was going on with him.
- Stop throwing cold water on this presentation! If you don’t like it, just leave!
To go under water
Going under water usually refers to a situation with money. If a business goes under water, it usually loses so much money that it is no longer practical to continue. An individual can go under water on their house if the money they own on their mortgage is too much for them to continue paying. In either case, people usually have to file for bankruptcy.
- I thought that Caleb’s startup was making a lot of money, but it turns out it went under water last week.
- The Great Recession in 2008 led to millions of people going under water on their mortgages because they lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to keep paying.
To be in deep water
Similar to being in hot water, deep water means that someone is in big trouble. The difference is that deep water is usually something that is more gradual, so a financial problem that has been brewing for years is a deep water problem rather than a hot water problem.
- It makes sense that the Mccarthys were in deep water financially because they had avoided paying taxes for years.
- It seems surprising to a lot of people that Mary was in deep water with her family, but those of us who really knew her had expected it all along.
Water under the bridge
If you decide to forgive something, that thing becomes water under the bridge. In other words, it is something that is forgiven and forgotten.
- I was really angry with my boyfriend at the time, but now it just seems like water under the bridge.
- The worst kind of communication is when one person thinks that her mistake is water under the bridge, but the other holds on to a grudge.
To be in uncharted waters
Someone who is in new, undiscovered territory – literally and metaphorically – is in uncharted waters. This often refers to new situations and possibilities – especially those that no one has ever explored before. The phrase implies a little bit of naiveté and sometimes a little skepticism at the person’s ability to navigate the situation.
- Smith’s research group is really venturing out into uncharted waters this semester – they have been experimenting with gene insertion!
- Jared is in uncharted waters with his business; he doesn’t have any idea how to handle the new demands!
Doesn’t hold water
If an argument doesn’t hold water, it means that it has a lot of holes and can easily be disproven. It is often used to describe a viewpoint, but can also apply to anything that can be proven false.
- I definitely thought that the politician’s claims didn’t hold water, but it seemed that the voters felt differently.
- Patty doesn’t want the jury to find that her argument doesn’t hold any water, so she stayed up all night preparing her case.
Come hell or high water
This is a phrase that means regardless of anything that happens. Whether it is hell, high water, or any other challenge, that will not deter the person from doing what they need to. Come hell or high water is commonly used in Western films, but the phrase can be used in any trying situation.
- Come hell or high water, the festival will go on tomorrow as planned.
- She has been incredibly consistent over the last few decades; she has gone to the farmer’s market to sell her family’s fruits come hell or high water every Sunday.
Keep one’s head above water
If you are struggling significantly to keep up with other people or any expectations, you may struggle to keep your head above water. This has a literal meaning, but the figurative meaning is more commonly used. The imagery comes from people who can be literally drowning, or figuratively drowning in tasks such as paperwork or homework.
- If you overload yourself before you establish a routine in college, you may really struggle to keep your head above water.
- Nancy definitely didn’t expect running her own business to be this difficult, but she has done a good job of keeping her head above water so far.
Verbs associated with water
Turn on the water
If you have a faucet or tap and want water to come out of it, you turn on the water.
- Turn on the water, will you? I’m about to wash the dishes.
To move water from one place (usually a bucket, pitcher, or other container for water) to another, you can pour water. Pour is a verb associated only with transferring liquids from one container to another.
- I poured the water from my pitcher into my glass.
To slosh water means to move it actively in a container. The water probably will move quickly from side to side, and even go over the edge of the bucket, glass, etc. Sloshing water means that you splash it, or almost spill it.
- Marie sloshed the water so much that most of it ended up on the floor rather than stayed in the bucket.
To water down something means to make it less extreme or intense. This can apply to a metaphorical thing (watering down your nationalist philosophy) or something physical (water down the lemonade to make it taste less sweet). Another synonym for water down is to dilute – which can be used for both literal and figurative things.
- I thought that the latte I ordered was too sweet and tried to water it down with milk, but I put too much and it ended up tasting like milk flavored with some coffee.
- The political party decided to rebrand its image in order to water down its hard stances on immigration and foreign trade.
Splashing water is something that children, especially babies, like to do in the bath! They will let the water spray or flow over the edge of the container. You can also splash water when you try to throw it at someone and get them wet.
- The baby did not like to take baths so she splashed water all over the bathroom and her mother when she was put in the water.
Spraying and splashing water are similar, but spraying usually involves a tool. Common tools to spray water include a spray bottle or water gun, where water is deliberately shot at something. Spraying is usually more purposeful.
- Be careful where you spray the water!
Sprinkling is another verb associated with moving water, but more slowly and with less volume at a time. To sprinkle water is like dropping small droplets of water on something, the way a sprinkler in your yard will spray small amounts of water all over your yard to make sure all your plants get water.
- The best way to water your lawn is to sprinkle the water around everywhere.
Water spurts when it comes out of a pipe, hose, or other place very suddenly and in large volumes. A steady stream of water can come out all at once and spurt everywhere, getting everyone wet in the process.
- Bob wasn’t be careful so he accidentally spurt water all over the car!
Squirting water is similar to a medium between spraying and spurting. The water, if squirted, comes out as a small stream. Usually squirting is done by a person with a tool, such as a water gun, and is directed at a specific target.
- My son really likes to poke a small hole in his water bottle so he can squirt water with it.