Is the following use of signal to stop natural?

John pulled over to the side of the road when he saw a policeman signaling to stop.

If it's natural, what does it mean and how does it differ from "signaling him to stop"?

A related question is whether to insert the preposition to or for between signaling and him.


The policeman was signaling. In this case, the signal was "to stop". It was not directed at any particular motorist, but just a general signal to everyone, including John.


The foreman signaled to shut down the production line.

The publicist signaled that the interview was over.

In both of these cases the signal was directed to everyone, with the assumption that the relevant people would see it and take appropriate action.

As you note, you can also signal to someone, if you want to communicate specifically with them:

The policeman signaled to John to pull over.

The sergeant signaled to the soldiers to fall out of formation.

The preposition is (normally) optional, but if you use one it should be "to" the intended recipient. "For" is used to describe the signal itself.

The event coordinator signaled to the band leader to start the music.

The event coordinator signaled for the music to start.

You can also say something like:

The event coordinator signaled for the band leader to start the music.

but note that this tells us about the purpose of the signal.

  • The event coordinator signaled the band leader to start the music. Is it correct? Why/Why not? Nov 16 '17 at 16:28
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    Yes, the preposition is optional. "The policeman signaled John to pull over" is grammatical. I couldn't tell you why, though -- I read somewhere that certain English grammar has become more simplified over time.
    – Andrew
    Nov 16 '17 at 16:35
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    Who knows if this would considered off-the-wall, but signal + infinitive is like a catenative verb; with him as direct object, it's like a ditransitive verb with dativisation. Nov 16 '17 at 17:08
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    @Tᴚoɯɐuo, what does 'dativisation' mean? I just can't find this word in any dictionaries.
    – dan
    Nov 17 '17 at 3:49

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