When you're having a cat nap and a bad car accident happens



Imagine yourself in a road where the driver is your friend and your are sitting in assistant seat. You feel a bit tired and are catching some Z's. Suddenly a car accident happens and you notice it, but because of a shocking blow you become unconscious. When you come to, someone is going to find out what happened because your friend is unconscious yet. Which one of the following self-made sentences sounds more idiomatic and natural in this sense? If no one is natural, please let me know what would a native speaker would say in this situation:

  • I was catching some Z’s that the accident happened abruptly.

  • I was having a cat nap that the accident happened abruptly.


Posted 2017-01-03T07:54:43.477

Reputation: 12 251

7Can I be so bold as to ask what brought this question on? – Mr Lister – 2017-01-03T12:17:28.107

6Just replace "that" with "when" and you're all set. But I'd recommend deleting "abruptly" as well, since it's hard to imagine a slow-happening accident in a moving vehicle. – Carl Witthoft – 2017-01-03T19:31:29.207

2@Carl Slow accidents do occur, but a sleeping passenger wouldn't know the difference, I imagine! – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T21:02:02.790

8"assistant seat" This is called the passenger seat, at least in American English. – jpmc26 – 2017-01-03T22:56:46.500

2Also, "your are sitting" may simply be a typo rather than a grammatical misunderstanding, but it should be "you are sitting in the passenger seat". "...is unconscious yet" is technically correct but archaic; the idiomatic phrase would be "is still unconscious." "Self-made" is understandable in context but not quite correct--it usually refers to something that made itself (e.g. a "self-made man"). "No one" usually refers to people, not objects, so your final sentence could more idiomatically start "If neither is natural..." – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T23:22:40.817

@MrLister to learn English while on the open road, and the tools for doing so...? – Ber – 2017-01-04T10:18:21.103



Abruptly is redundant in both sentences since "accidents" are usually abrupt.

What you are trying to say is

I was taking a nap when the accident happened.
I was asleep when the accident happened

So either "catching some z's" or "having a cat nap" could be used since both are equivalent phrases to "taking a nap". The choice is stylistic.

(source: dailymail.co.uk)

carcolepsy                                                         nap(ping) cat


Posted 2017-01-03T07:54:43.477

Reputation: 63 575

Do the infinitives "to be asleep" and "to take a nap" mean the same @Peter? – A-friend – 2017-01-03T12:40:23.083

2@A-friend: No; a nap additionally implies that it's a short period. You normally wouldn't use the word "nap" when you're asleep in the middle of the night. – MSalters – 2017-01-03T13:49:51.403

1@MSalters: I would also say that it implies sleeping at a time other than usual nighttime sleeping. Would you agree? – Jack Aidley – 2017-01-03T15:24:08.000

1@A-friend "You are asleep" during the time you are "taking a nap". A "nap" implies a short sleep during the daytime and a "cat nap" implies a "very short sleep" similar to "nodding off for a few winks" s a cat might do on a sunny window sill. – Peter – 2017-01-03T18:04:37.417

@JackAidley I'd generally agree, although on particularly late nights (say, 2 or 3 am) when someone must get up early in the morning, I often hear people bemoan the fact that all they'll be able to do is take a nap before getting up again. – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T23:29:45.450

1@JackAidley: Things can get a bit confused when you're jet-lagged (or on either pole ;)). But yes, "nap" generally refers to all but the main sleep episode. – MSalters – 2017-01-04T08:26:08.063


  • I had dozed off when we crashed.
    .......................... when the car accident happened.

You should use the past perfect tense because your falling asleep happened before the car accident.

doze off phrasal verb
If you doze off, you fall into a light sleep, especially during the daytime. [V P] ⇒ I closed my eyes for a minute and must have dozed off.

Mari-Lou A

Posted 2017-01-03T07:54:43.477

Reputation: 19 962

7+1 for "dozed off" – that's the exact expression that popped into my mind as well. It's hard to explain why, but I'd probably save "catching some Z's" for when I was napping in my own bed, and "taking a cat nap" for a short nap on a living room sofa. – J.R. – 2017-01-03T09:23:34.070

The word "doze" has connotations of foolishness. Sleep is more generic. I was sleeping when we crashed. – superluminary – 2017-01-03T11:54:12.930

6@superluminary I don't know if "dozing off" implies foolishness, but it does imply unplanned sleep. In the wrong situations, dozing off could be foolish (e.g. at work), but dozing off in the passenger seat of a car is pretty normal. However, one does not typically decide to doze off. – Harrison Paine – 2017-01-03T14:59:06.597

@HarrisonPaine - http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/dozy

– superluminary – 2017-01-03T15:07:48.140

1@superluminary: 'dozy' can be used in a perjorative sense (e.g. 'dozy idiot') but I do not consider it to carry any inherent judgement of foolishness. These are different uses of the same word. – Jack Aidley – 2017-01-03T15:23:02.017

2@superluminary to "doze off" while riding as a passenger is normal, it is not the same as being a dozy driver :) – Mari-Lou A – 2017-01-03T15:23:49.823

1@Mari-LouA - perhaps it's different in America. In the UK, the word doze is associated with grandfather dozing in his chair at Christmas, or a dozy old bee. It's a corpulent word, a fat word. It implies lazy sunny afternoons. Perhaps this is a British thing. – superluminary – 2017-01-03T15:42:25.973

3@superluminary - Maybe it's regional, as you surmise. I can assure you, doze has no "connotations of foolishness" where I am (in the U.S.), just connotations of a light sleep, often in a chair instead of a bed. – J.R. – 2017-01-03T16:20:14.497

5@superluminary I disagree that "doze" has anny conotation of foolishness in UK usage. "Dozy" is more likely to be interpreted as "bumbling and incompetent" rather than "prone to dozing" but "doze" has no such connotations. – David Richerby – 2017-01-03T16:27:14.173

7@J.R. As a British speaker, I think that "doze" means exactly what you think it means. – David Richerby – 2017-01-03T16:27:58.610

This doesn't seem to address OP's primary point of confusion, which (contrary to the emphasis in the question itself) appears to be the use of "that". Additionally, the necessity of the past-perfect is introduced by the suggestion of using "doze off"--note that neither of OP's original suggestions require it. This is fine, but putting the emphasis on this aspect of your answer seems more likely to confuse than enlighten. – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T17:35:57.910

2@KyleStrand the OP asked If no one is natural, please let me know what would a native speaker would say in this situation my answer is what I would say in the situation he described. P.S. You don't normally use the progressive tense with doze off, but it is possible. – Mari-Lou A – 2017-01-03T17:37:22.077

(Also note that it's not even the use of the verb "doze" that requires the past perfect, since "I was dozing when..." would also work.) – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T17:37:24.223

Right, what you would say. Instead of answering their question in general or correcting their most glaring mistake, you have given a single way to convey the same message, together with a grammar lesson that's unrelated to the original question. I'm not saying OP won't get any benefit from the answer, just that it really doesn't seem like a good answer to the question as asked. – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T17:39:23.027

@KyleStrand the beauty of SE system is that there isn't a single answer, there can be more than one good answer. You can upvote the answer you think best. – Mari-Lou A – 2017-01-03T17:41:16.470

And indeed I have. But I've also downvoted yours, because I think the deficiencies I've highlighted are actually pretty serious. – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T17:46:13.797

@KyleStrand Last comment :) I was dozing off means I was falling asleep, it's grammatical but the meaning changes, it says I was not yet sleeping. Using the Past Perfect makes it absolutely clear that the passenger had unintentionally fallen asleep. On the other hand, I was sleeping appears volitive, and suggests the act of being asleep is longer. "Suggests" mind you, nothing in English grammar or semantics is carved in stone. – Mari-Lou A – 2017-01-03T17:51:26.917

1"Dozed off" is the correct term: "Four percent – approximately eleven million drivers – admit they have had an accident or near accident because they dozed off or were too tired to drive." – Peter – 2017-01-03T18:22:24.350

I didn't suggest "I was dozing off...", I suggested "I was dozing when...". – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T20:58:16.257

1@Mari-LouA I realize that. But I don't really understand your objection. Dozing is the situation OP is describing; since dozing off refers, as you point out, to the actual moment of falling asleep, the use of "dozing off" instead of "dozing" (or either of OP's suggested verbs) necessitates the use of the past perfect, which is not otherwise necessary. My entire point is that you've introduced a grammar lesson that's relevant to your suggested phrasing but not (otherwise) relevant to the original question. – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T21:43:41.720

@Peter "I dozed off when we crashed" implies the same tense, i.e. that the two events were simultaneous. "I was dozing off" implies in the process of dozing off. May I suggest the elegant way to phrase would be *"I dozed off shortly before we crashed."* – Ber – 2017-01-04T10:25:20.280

"I dozed off shortly before we crashed." = "I must have just dozed off when we crashed". – Peter – 2017-01-04T10:53:42.720


Under this kind of condition, I'd be likely to adopt a quite formal tone, rather than less formal phrases such as "dozed off", so I'd think something like:

I'm sorry, I was asleep at the time of the accident. I don't know what happened.

Mind you, I'd expect a certain lack of coherence from someone who had just regained conciousness after an accident so perhaps a less coherent response is appropriate.

Jack Aidley

Posted 2017-01-03T07:54:43.477

Reputation: 786

1What about "I was nodding off at the time of the accident. I don't know what happened." Jack? – A-friend – 2017-01-03T13:22:10.093

I would also consider that an informal term I'd be unlikely to use when asked by someone I didn't know, or an authority figure, about the accident. – Jack Aidley – 2017-01-03T13:28:14.300

1@A-friend That sentence is fine, but "nodding off" means falling asleep, so the meaning has changed. – David Richerby – 2017-01-03T16:06:09.917

5In my mind, this is less about a difference in formality than a difference in meaning. Phrases like "dozed off" and "had nodded off" imply a brief and light sleep, whereas "was asleep" seems to connote a more prolonged and deeper slumber at the time of the accident. I'd have no problem using dozed off in an accident report if I was convinced I had nodded off just before the accident happened. – J.R. – 2017-01-03T16:25:27.990

1@J.R. I don't think there's a practical difference. The passenger in question was unconscious enough that they are not aware of the events that caused the accident. So while there might be more precise statements about the passenger's state, simplifying to, "I was asleep," is perfectly reasonable. The only reason I could see to be more precise is if the passenger is aware of some details but not many because they were going back and forth between consciousness. – jpmc26 – 2017-01-03T23:00:53.990

1@A-friend To expand a bit on David Richerby's comment, "nodding off" and "dozing off" both imply that the speaker was not yet entirely asleep (but was not entirely conscious either) at the time of the accident, whereas "having a cat nap," "catching some Z's", "dozing" (not "dozing off"), and "asleep" all imply that the speaker was already entirely unconscious when the accident occurred. (They are not entirely synonymous, though, since, as J.R. mentions, they have various connotations of how "light" or "heavy" the sleep was, and as this answer points out, some are more formal than others.) – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T23:26:36.337

1.....and of course you may also refer to my fairly prolonged disagreement with Mary-Lou A in the comments on her question, which discusses this distinction in some depth; you may or may not find it helpful. – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T23:27:44.880

@jpmc26 - I agree that the “practical differences” are negligible. I only delved into it because the O.P. seems interested in how native speakers might express this, so I’m pointing out: I’m inclined to use different phrasings in slightly different situations. – J.R. – 2017-01-04T01:17:06.480

What's wrong with "I was napping at the time of the accident."? – Elby Cloud – 2017-01-06T18:53:31.757


  • I was catching some Z’s that the accident happened abruptly.

  • I was having a cat nap that the accident happened abruptly.

The second half of both of these doesn't work. "That" isn't suitable where you've put it – I think your getting confused with the construction "I was so [adjective] that [event]", meaning "[Event] happened because I was very [adjective]." So you might say "I was so tired that the accident happened abruptly" but, still, that doesn't really make sense because you being tired didn't cause the accident or cause it to be abrupt.

What you really mean is that you were asleep and the accident happened abruptly. I guess the point is that you didn't have time to wake up and figure out what was going on until the accident had already happened. But car crashes are (almost) always abrupt, so that part's redundant. Instead, you can just say something like

  • I was catching some Z's/having a cat nap when the accident happened.

Now to address the question of whether it's idiomatic. I'd say that "catching some Z's" isn't idiomatic, especially when spoken to a police officer. I can just about imagine the most laid-back jazz musician saying something like that, but it would sound weird for me to say it. "Having a cat nap" is fine; I might not say it myself but that's just personal style. It's maybe more detail than is necessary, since the only relevant information is that you were asleep when the accident happened and it doesn't really matter how long you intended to sleep for. So I'd probably just say one of

  • I was asleep when it happened.
  • I was napping when it happened.

David Richerby

Posted 2017-01-03T07:54:43.477

Reputation: 7 931

3"Catching some Z's" sounds like the sort of slang that may have been much more popular half a century ago (which probably explains your association with jazz), but I don't actually know the history of the phrase. I do suspect OP probably picked it up from a book or a movie. – Kyle Strand – 2017-01-03T17:45:27.637