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When we touch an animal it is "pet" or "pat"?
Should we say "Can I pet" or "Can I pat him" (a dog)?

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    I often pat my cat when I am petting him. :-) Dec 30 '13 at 10:41
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    both but "pet" is more common.
    – hunter
    Dec 30 '13 at 22:02
  • Patting is one way of petting. Kissing, rubbing etc also is petting
    – Inglish
    Aug 19 '16 at 14:29
  • In Australian English, we say "pat". In American English, "pet" is most common. In British English, "stroke" is most common.
    – kasfme
    Sep 9 '16 at 8:33
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When one approaches a stranger's animal, it is polite (and wise) to ask,

May I pet your dog? or, May I pet him? If you do not know the animal's gender, it might be preferable to say your dog to it, although it is perfectly grammatical. One might do this as a way of respecting strong feelings one may have for a pet.

As for "pet" or "pat", both are correct. Pat connotes a light, quick stroke with the hand.

She gave him a friendly pat on the arm.

To pet an animal is to stroke or caress gently; pat; to touch or stroke in an affectionate or loving manner.

When I pet my cat, I feel very calm.

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    I think of pat as having more motion perpendicular to the "patted" surface, whereas pet has more motion parallel to the "petted" surface.
    – Jim
    Dec 30 '13 at 18:24
  • @Jim - that is my mental image as well. Dec 30 '13 at 21:09
  • @Jim - At the risk of a "Me, too" comment I think its significant to emphasize the direction of motion as the difference between pet and pat.
    – Ron Jensen
    Jan 7 '16 at 16:55

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