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I have a question about the usage of the patterns "push somebody to do something" and "push somebody into doing something":

  1. Police pushed him to give a confession.
  2. Police pushed him into giving a confession.

Do sentences 1 & 2 have different meanings? I a feeling (probably wrong) that sentence 1 describes the attempt and allows for the possibility that the person did not give a confession; and that sentence 2 means he did give a confession.

  • They mean the same. For many speakers, "to push someone into something" is a collocation that means something tantamount to "coerce". Just shy of coercion. He pushed me into it. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 18 '16 at 21:17
  • The closest synonym would be "bullied". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 18 '16 at 21:23
  • @TRomano I edited my question slightly. – meatie Sep 18 '16 at 22:00
  • I agree with your assessment of the difference. – shawnt00 Sep 19 '16 at 0:13
  • Let's say the police have obtained the confession. You could use either version to say that the police had succeeded in obtaining a confession. into coupled with the past tense pushed does convey the idea of completion, but into could be used with the continuous, in which case it would not convey completion: The police were pushing him into giving a confession. In isolation, pushed him to give means no more than that "they exerted force the goal of which was to cause him to give..." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 19 '16 at 10:52
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Police pushed him to give a confession. Police pushed him into giving a confession.

The first sentence doesn't really feel like natural English, but I guess if you pressed me for an answer, I'd say that the sentences are syntactically the same.

To me the proper idiom is to "push (someone) into (doing something)" since "push to" is not a phrase commonly used for people. What I mean is, I can "push my car to the gas station" but I don't usually "push my friend to the pub". I can carry him to the pub, or walk him to the pub, or force him to the pub, or even drag him to the pub, but not push.

Don't ask me why. Idioms don't always make sense. Also "push to" might be fine in other English-speaking regions than Southern California.

  • My north-eastern dialect suggests that "to" is more natural than "into," which I rarely hear outside of physically moving one thing into another. – Ethan Chapman Sep 24 '16 at 1:05
  • @EthanChapman indeed. The answer will change depending who you talk to. – Andrew Sep 25 '16 at 21:56
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  1. To push somebody to do something

  2. to push somebody into doing something '

Both examples syntactically mean exactly what we intend to express, pressurize to have the confession. The little bit of difference that is there, arises from the inherent nature of an Infinitive and a gerund. Infinitives are rather philosophical and may not have a factual validity.

  • I like to visit New York.

  • I like visiting New York.

In the first example I long to visit only, but in the latter l visited New York though I still cherish to visit.

In the sentence, "Police pushed him into giving a confession", he has actually something to confess and was being forced to admit it.

In the sentence with infinitive the only reality is that he was pressured but there might not be anything to confess. Moreover, after the preposition into the infinitive cannot be used.

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