The English language is in no shortage of examples of different ways to spell the same word. ‘Combating’ or ‘combatting’ is one of them.
And to complicate matters further, this particular word can carry two separate meanings, depending on how you pronounce it. Read on to learn all about those meanings.
We'll also dive into the grammatical uses of the word, its roots, and correct pronunciation. Oh, and of course, we'll reveal the recommended way to spell it.
The word combating or combatting is the present participle form of the word “combat”, which can be either a noun or a verb. How will you know which of the two it is? You'll know based on the context of the sentence, as well as the pronunciation (see the following section).
Read on for a definition of each form of the word.
Combat (n): A battle or conflict between two parties.
Tyrian demanded a trial by combat.
Combat (v): To take action to stop something undesirable.
We must put our best efforts forth to combat climate change.
The difference between the noun and the verb form of the word can be deciphered in the way it is pronounced. In the noun form, the emphasis will be on the first syllable: combat. In the verb form, the emphasis will be on the second syllable: combat.
But how exactly do you pronounce the word? To those rare geniuses who can read phonetics, this is for you:
We mentioned before that the word combating or combatting can carry two different meanings. The meaning changes depending on the context and the pronunciation of the word.
But that isn’t where it ends. The word isn’t done surprising us yet. It can also take on two separate grammatical structures - the present participle and the gerund.
The present participle is a grammatical tense used to conjugate verbs in a way that signifies the action is currently taking place.
In the case of the word “combat” in its noun form, using it in the present participle tense would signify that a combat is currently taking place.
“Luther is combatting Superman, but who will win?”.
N.B: Though this sentence is grammatically correct, you wouldn’t hear many people using the word in this way nowadays, as it’s rather outdated. You’d more likely hear them say “Luther is fighting Superman”.
Using the verb “combat” in the present participle tense implies that there is ongoing action to stop something from happening.
“The country is now actively combatting poverty with new government policies.”
You’ll find below some other examples of verbs being used in the present participle tense:
“I’m afraid I can’t join you right now; I’m cooking a scrumptious meal for my family.”
“Are you sure you’re on my street? I’m standing outside my front door, yet I can’t see you”.
“Oh nothing much, I’m just walking my dog on the beach, how about you?”
As we have just covered, usually, when a verb ends with the suffix -ing, it refers to an action that is currently taking place. But over time, language has evolved to allow for the present participle tense of a verb to be used as a noun.
And that’s what a gerund is. It’s a word ending in "-ing" that is made from a verb and used like a noun. They can be quite complex beasts, those gerunds. And they require specific grammatical structures in the sentence to even qualify as gerunds. But that’s not the point of this article, so we’re going to keep it quite simple. If you’re interested and want to find out more about gerunds, you’ll learn everything you need to know in this article.
Using the cooking example from the previous section, but using “cooking” as a gerund instead of the present participle, we would get,
“Cooking for my family makes me happy”.
The difference here is that the speaker isn’t currently cooking a meal. They are referring to an activity that generally makes them happy.
Some other examples include:
“I love a good shopping spree.”
“Skiing is a fun but dangerous sport.”
“I’m interested in learning more about the English language.”
Now to tackle the question that’s on everyone’s lips: Which is the correct spelling - combating or combatting? The answer, as it so often is, is… it depends!
The Americans and the Brits are known for wanting to differentiate themselves from one another. One nation drives on the left side of the road, the other on the right. One thinks that football should be played with your feet, the other plays it with their hands. And spellings didn’t escape this tradition.
The evidence can’t be disputed:
So who spells it which way?
“Combatting” is the spelling most commonly used in British English.
“Combating” is the spelling most commonly used in American English.
So there you have it. When deciding to spell combating or combatting, all you need to do is figure out which country you’re in (which shouldn’t be too difficult), and you’ll have your correct spelling!
Fun fact: “Combative”, the adjective form of the word, is spelled with just one ‘t’ in both British and American English.
Okay, so to explain this one we’re going to need to go through a short history lesson. We promise we’ll make it quick.
Cue the 17th century, the British began colonizing the Americas. They introduce their language - English. By 1806, they’d been there for almost two centuries so they figure it was time to introduce their own, alternative spellings for English words. This is immediately popular because the spellings are simplified.
British English spellings mostly stem from the French and German roots they inherited the language from. American English, however, tends to spell words the way they are pronounced. This often means the word is shortened (for example, “programme” becomes “program”) or letters are swapped out (a “z” replaces an “s”).
In 1828, Noah Webster cements the use of these new spellings with his release of the famous “An American Dictionary of the English Language”. Americans never look back.
What if you’re located in one of the many English-speaking countries that are neither the USA nor Britain?
The short answer is: that’s up to you! You have the freedom to pick your preferred spelling, hurray!
The longer answer… well actually, this answer is short, too. English-speaking countries outside of the U.S. and Britain typically tend to use the British spelling.
But if you’re unsure, just set the language on your auto-correct to the country that you’re in / writing for. Any “incorrect” spellings are automatically flagged!
We hope this has helped clarify the many uses of the word “combative”, and that you can now use it in the right context... and say it right! As you’ll have noticed (because we mentioned it at the beginning), we’ve opted for the spelling “combative”. Can you guess where we are based?
We’re curious! Tell us, when’s the last time you used the word “combative”?