penetrate: move into or through

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77Cat77

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi! Guys!
I'm confused with the sense of "penetrate" in the following sentence.
"Amazingly, the bullet did not penetrate his brain."
This sentence appears under the first sense "move into or through" from the Cambridge Dictionary. But I've got two pictures in my mind after reading the sentence. The bullet moved through his brain. The bullet entered into his brain and stopped in it. How do you see it?
Thanks in advance!

When I look up "penetrate" in Merriam Webster, I also encounter such an example as "These bullets can penetrate armor."
 
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  • 77Cat77

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    It tells me the the skull stopped the bullet. That, or it penetrated the head but did not damage the brain.
    Do you mean that both of these possibilities exist? So can I say this is a sentence with ambiguous meaning?
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Do you mean that both of these possibilities exist? So can I say this is a sentence with ambiguous meaning?
    There is no ambiguity. It just says the bullet did not penetrate his brain. All the rest is a matter of conjecture. Most likely, the skull stopped the bullet, but it is also possible that the bullet did not even hit the skull and the impact was elsewhere.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I agree that there’s no ambiguity. It means what it says — the bullet did not reach far enough to actually enter the man’s brain.

    To penetrate does not imply passing right through something. It only means going in at one end. Not also coming out at the other.
     
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    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I see. Thanks! But how about this one: The bullet penetrated the wall. from penetrate - WordReference.com Dictionary of English
    Based on the explanation"1. to pierce or pass into or through", where is the bullet?
    Either in the wall or beyond it. But probably if it was beyond it the author would have written "went (right) through the wall" to make this clear.

    The fact that a word can have various meanings does not imply that it is the best choice of word in all those meanings.
     

    77Cat77

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Wow! You guys are really helpful! Now I get it! "To penetrate" mainly signifies "to enter into". But when it comes to specific situation, like " X-rays can penetrate many objects. ", it signifies "to pass through". Can I understand "penetrate" this way?
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Can I understand "penetrate" this way?
    Yes. In general terms, English is heavily dependent upon context: In this case, the listener/reader has to be given the context of what happened to the subject of the verb "to penetrate" - unless it is obvious.

    The bullet penetrated his skull [but stopped before touching the brain] -> informs us that the bullet did not exit
    The bullet penetrated his skull [and was stopped by the wall behind him.] -> informs us that the bullet did exit
    The bullet penetrated his skull [and spread the mess on the wall behind.] -> we realise that the bullet must have exited.
    The bullet penetrated the ocean's surface -> we realise that the bullet did not exit.
     
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    77Cat77

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Yes. In general terms, English is heavily dependent upon context: |In this case, the listener/reader has to be given to context of what happened to the subject of the verb "to penetrate" - unless it is obvious.

    The bullet penetrated his skull [but stopped before touching the brain] -> informs us that the bullet did not exit
    The bullet penetrated his skull [and was stopped by the wall behind him.] -> informs us that the bullet did exit
    The bullet penetrated his skull [and spread the mess on the wall behind.] -> we realise that the bullet must have exited.
    So comprehensive! Thank you, PaulQ!
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I think people generally know x-rays are either blocked by a material or pass through. Unlike a bullet, which is a physical object, an x-ray doesn't slow down and stop inside something (that's the context). So, with x-rays, penetrate generally means "goes in one side and out the other".
     
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