Why is “deal 6 damage” a legit phrase?



Hearthstone Fireball Card

I mean, if damage is countable, it should be

Deal 6 damages.

If it’s not countable, then this sentence should be wrong.

Such as saying something like

I drank 5 water.

So... am I missing something here?

Hao Wu

Posted 2019-08-01T04:16:51.000

Reputation: 631



It's domain specific, and not something that would be said outside the context of a game like this.

It's almost certainly an elided form of the following:

Deal 6 points of damage.

(And damage here is a mass noun.)

In the same way that headlines take liberties with the omission of articles and other grammatical structures, so too is this game using a shortened form of English that's understood in its own context. (With that font size, it looks like the full sentence might not fit within the space allowed by the card.)

Jason Bassford

Posted 2019-08-01T04:16:51.000

Reputation: 34 584

2So technically the phrase itself is wrong, but it's acceptable in a certain environment or context? – Hao Wu – 2019-08-01T04:46:43.177

12Yes, you can look at it that way. Or you could say that in the grammar of the game it's perfectly fine. – Jason Bassford – 2019-08-01T05:14:36.810

23If I recall correctly, one popular card game (MtG) defined "damage" as a unit, so, in this context, "6 damage" would be correct and saying "6 points of damage" was explicitly discouraged. The card shown in the Q belongs to a game that is heavily inspired by MtG. – Ruther Rendommeleigh – 2019-08-01T13:15:19.930

2@RutherRendommeleigh If it were a unit it would be pluralized, like '7 inches' or '20 grams'. Additionally, the term 'unit' does not appear in the MtG comprehensive rules, so I question your interpretation of damage's definition there. (Also, I'm pretty sure that this idiom predates MtG in games like Dungeons and Dragons. – Arcanist Lupus – 2019-08-01T14:01:57.943

17@Arcanist Lupus there are words whose plurals are the same as their singular. This includes many animals, such as "elk", "deer", and "fish" (which can be pluralized as either "fish" and "fishes"), as well as miscellaneous words like "aircraft". Since "damages" in common parlance is used not as a plural, but to indicate financial context, it makes sense that the plural of the emerging countable meaning which abbreviates "point(s) of damage" would be "damage" and not "damages". – stellatedHexahedron – 2019-08-01T14:32:41.903

@Arcanist Lupus - Depends on the unit, I was thinking of the electrical units which don't get pluralized. In any case, I'll try and see if I can find my source when I'm home, perhaps it was an inofficial one. Pretty sure in any case that "points of damage" was disallowed as a term. – Ruther Rendommeleigh – 2019-08-01T14:40:36.080

1It could also be that in the context, singular also indicates that the effect is atomic. If, eg, there is "Divine Shield" effect on minion that is targeted, all damage is prevented, not just the 1st point. Singular is also used for most of game's base stats: "Restore 5 health", and "Gain 2 Armor", and thus is a shortened version of "X points". Eg. "5 health points". Interestingly enough, "Mana" is always referred to as "Mana crystals" though, as in "Gain 1 Mana crystal". Perhaps it is because there is a finite number of "mana crystals" available to player, which can't be exceeded. – Gnudiff – 2019-08-01T14:46:56.063

17@RutherRendommeleigh All SI units get pluralized; electrical and otherwise. Don't confuse "this is a five-ohm resistor" with "its resistance is five ohms." – David Richerby – 2019-08-01T14:49:24.593

1@stellatedHexahedron that's fair, but generally in games we're still referring to damage and similar things using 'much' instead of 'many' ("how much damage did you deal"), so I still think that it's being used as a mass noun with the unit dropped (because there's only one unit possible) rather than a countable unit itself. – Arcanist Lupus – 2019-08-01T15:09:46.117

Fireball certainly has plenty of space to print "Deal 6 points of damage", but there are many cards with more complex effects (e.g. Starfall https://gamepedia.cursecdn.com/hearthstone_gamepedia/c/cd/Starfall%28464%29.png?version=d9e6eb7eb026e4425fb5a6569a87636c ) that do benefit from this sort of shorthand.

– EldritchWarlord – 2019-08-01T15:38:05.950

2It's a jargon shorthand for the game. – RBarryYoung – 2019-08-01T16:18:40.680


@Gnudiff There is a distinction between "mana crystal" and "mana" in Hearthstone. A mana crystal is a container for mana, and mana is what is used for paying costs. As to why no cards add mana directly (i.e. by filling existing empty mana crystals), and instead always give you mana crystals (even if sometimes temporarily), I imagine that is just a design decision made to reduce confusion. Also note that for example Forbidden Words does refer directly to "mana".

– SamYonnou – 2019-08-01T17:33:16.217

@SamYonnou indeed, you are right. However note also that all cards apart from Forbidden Words speak about mana crystals implying full crystals and specifically denote empty crystals otherwise https://hearthstone.gamepedia.com/Mana

– Gnudiff – 2019-08-01T22:23:59.273

@RutherRendommeleigh Giving the matter further consideration, I now think that we're both right. In the exchange "How much damage did you deal?" "I dealt 5 damage", 'damage' is first being used as a mass noun, and then again as a unit. – Arcanist Lupus – 2019-08-02T01:05:57.643

1I think "If your answer is upvoted you get 10 rep" on these sites follows the same rule, doesn't it? – Fabio says Reinstate Monica – 2019-08-02T16:41:14.040

2Note that it the context of games and point systems you can use this formulation for anything, especially the OPs other example of water. "You gain 5 water" is correct in a survival game when you use a consumable and it gives you 5 (points of) water. Similarly, games often use "you lose 5 thirst". – Please stop being evil – 2019-08-02T16:58:38.167


Generically, because it's established gaming jargon. While the answer by Jason Bassford is almost certainly correct about the origins of this particular bit of jargon, it's gotten to the point now that it's just accepted jargon, so it's what almost everybody uses.

In a number of cases, the jargon for a particular domain is essentially a distinct grammatical and lexical dialect from the base language it's used in, and should be analyzed as such since it quite often just doesn't make sense otherwise.

In this particular case, the construct [verb] [number] [attribute or property] is in widespread use in many types of games as a way of concisely expressing a numerical change in state of some specific value within the context of the game. The verb indicates the particular direction of the change (positive or negative), the number is largely universally a positive, and the attribute or property indicates what is being changed.

So, in your example, 'deal 6 damage' means that whatever entity is being targeted takes six points of damage, but expresses that without needing nearly as many words.

That kind of concise communication gets really important in a lot of cases because space is often limited when relaying information like this, so fewer words means you can use a bigger font, and therefore make it more easily readable (this is less of an issue in a digital context though than it is with physical games).

As mentioned above, the origins of this phrase are almost certainly exactly what Jason Bassford outlined in his answer. Exactly pinpointing its origin is somewhat difficult, but I'd be willing to bet that it developed first as verbal shorthand among players of tabletop RPGs (like Dungeons & Dragons) and then got slowly inherited by other gaming contexts (many gamers tend to play more than one type of game). It's long-since become standard phrasing in TCGs and CCGs, likely because of Magic the Gathering (which goes a step further and uses similar phrasing to indicate changes in certain non-numeric properties as well), and that's probably where the usage in your particular case came from (I'm pretty sure the picture is a card from Hearthstone, which took heavy inspiration in a lot of ways from MtG, just like most other TCG type games).

Austin Hemmelgarn

Posted 2019-08-01T04:16:51.000

Reputation: 665


As Jason Bassford's excellent answer indicates, "deal 6 damage" is an elided form of something like

Deal 6 points of damage.
Deal 6 damage tokens.

and it's being used here as jargon, perhaps to conserve valuable space on the card.

The use of jargon also helps with consistency; if one card says "Deal 6 units of damage" and another says "Deal 6 damage points," do they mean the same thing or different things? Players will be confused by the inconsistency. But if the preferred form of the instruction is chosen to be also the shortest possible form — "deal 6 damage" — then it's easier for the author and proofreader to verify that all the cards in the game use that preferred phrase consistently.

The use of mass nouns for units and stats is widespread in all role-playing and card games. None of these instructions look "weird" to me:

Collect 2 gold.
Gain 3 magic.
Lose 4 dexterity.
Trade 5 wood for 6 stone.

Many games take it a step further toward brevity and consistency by inventing icons for each resource in the game. For example, instead of "Gain 1 renown," a game might simply say "Gain 1 ." Instead of "Gain 1 spending power," a game might simply say "Gain ①."

Another benefit of using such short phrases (besides space-on-card and consistency) is that they tend to preserve player immersion. The mechanics of the game may deal in "hit points" and "wood cards," but thematically the game deals in actual damage and actual wood. So rather than saying "I'll trade you a wood card for a sheep card," the players want to pretend that they're trading the actual item — "I'll trade you a piece of wood for a sheep." But is it a piece of wood? a bundle of wood? a cartload of wood? The game doesn't tell us. So we just say "a wood" — avoiding the game-mechanical detail of "a wood card" but not committing to any particular real-world-mechanical details either.


Posted 2019-08-01T04:16:51.000

Reputation: 498

I don't know how I read your last phrase as "quantum-mechanical details". – user21820 – 2019-08-04T10:22:43.590


It's a normal imperative sentence

The subject "You", is normally omitted from an imperative statement.

[You] give me your passport.

But we conjugate as if the subject is stated.

[You] deal 6 damage.

The singular "deal" agrees with the subject "You".

It would be the same if the object were countable.

[You] deal 6 cards.

So we don't even look at whether "damage" is countable. It's not. Points are countable, but "points of" or "point of" is omitted in gaming slang.

Deal 6 [points of] damage.
Deal 1 [point of] damage.

Harper - Reinstate Monica

Posted 2019-08-01T04:16:51.000

Reputation: 523


What's really wrong here is the way deal is not conjugated as it should be written "deals". Otherwise that's just an order like the dragon is talking to his fireball when he spits it. I'm really confused as why no one noted that before, strictly exhausting themselves to determine if the words "points of" should be added to make this a legitimate sentence. So no this is not good and even really bad.


Posted 2019-08-01T04:16:51.000

Reputation: 99

1It's not the card that "deals* the damage, you do. So "[You] deal 6 damage [to the opponent or creature]". – VLAZ – 2019-08-03T16:39:02.200

Then there is too much crucial words that are being left off the sentence and it's enough to make this utterly incorrect and interpretation dependant. – Yvain – 2019-08-03T16:43:14.823

This is an english language forum, not cryptography. – Yvain – 2019-08-03T16:45:00.977

Too much missing? You can only do stuff to a player or a creature. Further you can subdivide them into friendly and opponent. With no qualifier, any targets are valid. – VLAZ – 2019-08-03T16:45:02.290


@Yvain It's an imperative. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperative_mood

– wizzwizz4 – 2019-08-03T17:38:24.013

Fair enough. I used to play magic the gathering. – Yvain – 2019-08-03T18:13:23.273