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Example sentence:

Maria wiped (at) her purple cheek powder. It didn't come out.

What's the difference between the two?

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Both ways give the same information and have the same meaning, as in this example:

  1. She smiled and wiped (at) a tear that was threatening to trail down her cheek.

In the example 1 "at" is pointing to the "tear", the only preposition used to give a location in the phrase.

  1. I was sitting in the hospital room when Walter Cronkite made the announcement and wiped a tear from his eye.

Now in this example it would sound strange to use "wiped at", as the preposition "from" is already being used to point a location, the eye.

So I'd just be careful about the second example, check if a preposition pointing a place is already being used in the clause, in this case don't use wiped at.

If you want more examples you can find them here: Concordander

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