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What's the difference between "belong to me" and "belong with me"?

For example:

"My darling, I'm very happy that you belong to me."

"My darling, I'm very happy that you belong with me." (one example in a song)

What's the difference between these two sentences?

18

You belong to me
I "own" you - I have "rights" over you, I can make decisions on your behalf, etc.
Often with the implication that I define the "value judgement" framework governing our relationship.

You belong with me
It is right and proper that you should be close to me
Often with the implication that the reason for this assertion is either to comply with some "external" value system, or because it's in your best interests (not necessarily just because it's what I want).

As an example of a clear-cut differentiating context, suppose on his first day at a new school, a student is unsure whether to go into classroom A or classroom B. A second student - himself a new arrival - knows that all new students should report to classroom A on their first day. He might say You belong with me, as he invites the other to follow him into the correct classroom.

That second student would never say You belong to me. But if it was the teacher (about to go into classroom A herself, and having been asked by the first new arrival where he should go), it would be at least feasible1 for her to use to instead of with.


1 As per comments below, at least some people would find the teacher's use of belong to inappropriate / offensive. Which simply goes to prove the point that asserting a person "belongs to" another person strongly implies that the (usually, metaphoric) "owner" may be exercising undue dominance.

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    it would be inappropriate for the teacher to use to – WendyG Feb 11 at 15:41
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    @WendyG: I did only say feasible, but honestly, I think saying it would be "inappropriate" is a bit over-sensitive. Would you excuse the teacher if she said You belong to my class? (Yeah, yeah - I know that in practice she'd be more likely to say You belong in my class, but that's not the point.) – FumbleFingers Feb 11 at 15:46
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    inappropriate may have been the wrong word in a meToo world. I was meaning unsuitable, it turns out according to cambridge this is only an american usage, you learn something every day – WendyG Feb 11 at 16:06
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    The more authoritarian a school environment, the more likely it would be to hear a teacher or administrator use "you belong to me", as in, "When you are in my class, you belong to me. You will do what I say, when I say, and how I say to do it..." But I think that usage just reinforces the ownership aspect of the phrase in the sense that the teacher "owns" hiser class and the students in the class are subject to that ownership. Or think of the military drill sergeant, "For the next 16 weeks, maggot, you belong to me!" – geneSummons Feb 11 at 23:36
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    @Lambie I also know the difference. You are making a black and white statement, and I am providing you evidence that there is more grey than you think. That may be the only 'reasonable' interpretation TO YOU, but it isn't to me. Let's agree to disagree, I just wanted to provide my perspective, and you seem more interested in proving that you are "right" and I am "wrong" despite my broad experience with it (remember, 20-30 different teachers have said this). – Aethenosity Feb 12 at 23:31
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“Belong to me” suggests possession. When something belongs to you, you own it. But when speaking about people the possession is of course not literal.

“Belong with me” does not have the connotation of possession- it is just saying the person or thing and the speaker (“me”) should be together.

When talking about romantic partners, I think the former (“to”) suggests an existing relationship (“you are already my partner and I am happy about that”), whereas the latter (“with”) suggests a desire that the subject be in a relationship with the speaker (“you should be my partner”/“I wish you were my partner”).

5

You belong to me I "own" you

  • I have "rights" over you, I can make decisions on your behalf, etc.
    Often with the implication that I define the "value judgement" framework governing our relationship.

You belong with me

  • It is right and proper that you should be close to me.
    Often with the implication that the reason for this assertion is either to comply with some "external" value system, or because it's in your best interests (not necessarily just because it's what I want).

I have stolen this section completely from Fumble Fingers answer, as I agree with this totally. But I disagree with the analysis there.

Many people still romantically love the idea of "belonging to" someone, see this Dean Martin song:

You Belong to Me

Dean Martin

Watch the sunrise on a tropic isle
See the pyramids along the Nile
Just remember darlin', all the while
You belong to me

BUT

Many people dislike the phrase, as they don't like being described as being owned by someone. This takes in the background of women literally being their husbands property for hundreds of years in the UK*.

To contrast here is the Police Song "Every Breath You Take", some people consider this a romantic song even though it was written to be a creepy song about a stalker citation of Sting

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I'll be watching you

Oh can't you see
You belong to me
My poor heart aches
With every step you take

And it takes in the controlling nature of some relationships where one partner has the belief they are correct to control completely the other partner's every action and sometimes thoughts.

Even if people don't think of literal ownership, it sounds possessive and slightly controlling.

I would imagine the descendants of slaves are also not keen on this terminology, but I base this on nothing more than how I think I would feel.

So I would recommend not using the TO form yourself, as you never know how the other person will take it.


*I believe America is the same but my American social history is not good enough to make a definite statement.

  • Contrast those lyrics with the lyrics to Sting's Every Breath You Take in which "You belong to me" distinctly adds to the creepiness of all the "I'll be watching you" verses. The choruses and the bridge seem to lean more toward to the romantic interpretation taking "to" to mean "with". But I think Sting very deliberately chose to use "You belong to me" instead of "with me" to end the first line of the chorus; to keep the creepiness simmering, and to twist the straight-up lonely romantic achiness of the bridge more toward creepy-land. – geneSummons Feb 11 at 23:16
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    "Many people are beginning to dislike the phrase" : Beginning to? using the phrase "you belong to me" in this sort of relationship context has always had an uncomfortable edge to it & been subject to disapproval throughout my life, not counting early childhood that's from the 70's on, so you have that wrong. – Pelinore Feb 12 at 1:37
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    @geneSummons in interviews Sting is confused why people find that song as romantic it was written as a creepy stalker song. – WendyG Feb 12 at 9:26
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    @Pelinore, That is me couching my lack of history on the issue in vague phrases. And if I wanted a pedantic (hopefully humorous response) I could say dislike since the 60s is recently as women have belonged to men for hundreds of years – WendyG Feb 12 at 9:29

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