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I was reading a Wikipedia page that has this line:

Christopher Byers had lacerations to various parts of his body

It made me wonder if the preposition on would work as well. Intuitively I thought when people discover a body, they see the injuries such as cuts and bruises on it. It also made me think about other similar nouns: cut, blow, injury, bruise, wound. After doing some research on dictionary sites, Google Books and Google Ngram, this matter has become ever more confusing to me.

Google Ngram suggests that "injuries to" is much more common than "injuries on". But I have found several attestations of "injuries on"

Autopsy reports showed that the baby had blunt force trauma injuries on the head and neck. (source)

Both on and to seem to follow "laceration", "blow", and "wound" as in these sentences from the Oxford Dictionaries, Google Dictionary and Google Books results:

‘Small lacerations on the face usually heal well with this preparation.’

‘he suffered lacerations to his head and face’

"a blow on the head"

"he received a blow to the skull"

‘a wound to the thigh’

Groups of six trees each were treated with the various dressings, two wounds on each tree being protected while two others were left untreated to serve as checks. (Source)

Attending to the Wounds on Christ's Body. (It's a book title)

‘blood ran from a cut on his jaw’

‘He smiles at her and she smiles back then continues to clean the cut on his shoulder.’

‘He sustained minor injuries of slight cuts and scratches to his head.’

‘She had goose bumps all over her body and a bruise on her arm.’

‘They suffered bruises and injuries to their heads.’

Are there any differences in meaning? Which preposition in preferred? Would the original sentence work equally fine as

Christopher Byers had lacerations on various parts of his body

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The difference is generally active vs. passive wounding. Someone causes a wound to a body part (active), while you can have a wound on a body part (passive).

Which you use depends on context:

The assailant inflicted a number of lacerations to the victim's arms and torso.

The victim has a number of lacerations on his arms and torso.

You can shift this the passive voice, but the preposition still indicates some kind of action:

A number of lacerations were inflicted to the victim's arms and torso (by the assailant).

or

The victim received lacerations to his arms and torso (from the assailant).

To put it another way: In general, use to when referring to an action that causes a wound, and use on when referring to a situation where a wound exists.

Keep in mind this is only a rough guide, not a rule. Some people will prefer one over the other, or switch it up based on what sounds best to them.

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