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After it had passed, they swam on as quickly as they could because they knew that the boat would soon return.

Can I replace ‘swam on’ with ‘swam’? What is the difference between ‘swam on’ and ‘swam’?

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To [verb] on means to continue to [verb], generally in the same manner or direction as you were before.1

Thus, to swim on means to keep on swimming, probably in the same direction as they were before. In this case, it indicates that they didn't stop (or remain stopped), or turn back or divert their course. That conveys additional meaning that would not be there if it were just swam without on.

Note, however, that on can also be a preposition for an adverbial phrase. "I walked on the path" is not walk on, but walk with an adverbial of location.


1: There are exceptions, such as carry on which is really a phrasal verb that connotes a more general meaning along the lines of the above without being specific about what is to be continued.

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  • carry on functions just like swam on here, if you think about it.
    – Lambie
    May 10 '19 at 23:25
  • @Lambie I think carry on is different with draw on, for we can omit on of draw on, but we can't omit on of carry on. Am I right?
    – Y. zeng
    May 3 at 10:58
  • @Y.zeng, on in these phrases means: to continue to do an action.
    – Lambie
    May 3 at 12:52
  • @Lambie So, can I omit on in carry on?
    – Y. zeng
    May 3 at 14:19
  • @Y.zeng No, then you change the meaning. The verb draw can mean many things and it is most UNLIKELY you will find draw on, meaning: to continue to draw, like on paper with a pencil. Here is a famous British song sung during WWII: And the Band Played On: youtube.com/watch?v=m0hlzE4MaZQ played on there means: continued to play
    – Lambie
    May 3 at 14:27

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