How to use and read English dictionaries?


I have a somewhat strange question and I need your help. When I read English dictionaries, I think that definitions starting with to infinitive can be replaced with words.


For example,



[transitive]  to use a very large amount of something:
This car eats petrol.

->This car uses a very large amount of petrol.



[intransitive and transitive]  to have a meal

They're eating breakfast.

-> They're having breakfast.


However, this one is unnatural.



 [intransitive and transitive]  to put food in your mouth and chew and swallow it

Does Rob eat fish?

-> Does Rob put fish in his mouth and chew and swallow it?


I would like to know if definitions starting with to infintives like to have a meal can be replaced with words but sometimes although definitions have the meaning of the words, replacing to infintives with words is not natual and not allowed?


What do you experts think?


Thank you so much in advance.

edited Feb 21 '14 at 11:36 Hans Contributor

1 answer


I was a bit confused by what you meant by "replacing with words."  Every word can be replaced with another word or phrase. You just have to decide which one is better for your usage.


Your first example sounds natural both ways.  Since this usage is a less formal, you would probably replace it with the phrase from the definition in in formal writing. 


The second example is replacing one word for one word.  Using a synonym may create a slightly different meaning, but in this case it does not.


The difference between the third example and the previous two is that the definition is very long.  Most people wouldn't say all of that when it can be said with one very short word.  In that sense, it is not very natural to say the whole thing.  However, when my son visited China, he sent a picture of scorpions on a stick.  I am not one to try exotic foods.  In fact my palate goes for very bland tastes.  So I probably said, "Are you telling me that they put those scorpions in their mouth and chew them and swallow them?  Ewwwww!"  I would have used the long description to emphasize every step one goes through to eat. 


I hope that helps!

link comment edited Feb 21 '14 at 18:38 Patty T Grammarly Fellow

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