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1. I need to paint the wall on the top of the existing paint.

2. I need to paint the wall over the existing paint.

3. I need to paint the wall on the existing paint.

As a learner I'm not able to choose the correct one.

Please explain.

Thank you.

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With some revision, I would say that the first two sentences are okay, but the third is a bit awkward.

First of all, this simple sentence is just fine:

I need to paint the wall.

If you're talking about existing paint, however, I would phrase it a bit differently:

I need to paint on top of the (wall's) existing paint.
I need to paint over the (wall's) existing paint.

Normally, context will make it clear that you're talking about a wall in the first place—so you often wouldn't need to mention that. (Which is why I put it in brackets.) However, if it is mentioned, the sentence is clearer if the paint is main subject rather than the wall itself.


I need to paint on the (wall's) existing paint.

The reason this doesn't sound completely normal is because it would be more likely interpreted as painting a picture (or something similar) on the wall rather than actually applying a coat of paint to the entire surface of the wall.

It's simply the case that when you draw on a wall, you are drawing on just a portion of wall. The same is true of putting graffiti on a wall. The association with on is, generally, one of using just a portion rather than the entire thing.


In choosing between on top off and over, over would be used in the specific context of deliberately covering up what's already there.

For instance:

I hate that paint colour. I need to paint over it.

This implies that the purpose of painting is to cover up the existing paint that you don't like.

Meanwhile, on top of doesn't indicate a specific purpose in the same sense. It's just saying that when you apply new paint, you will do so without first removing the old paint.


I would personally tend to use paint over more than paint on top of, perhaps because it's applicable in more contexts, but I don't think there's a problem with using either one of them.

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