The word "touch" is very flexible

touch 1 FEEL [transitive] to put your hand, finger etc. on someone or something

She reached out to touch his arm.

If your house has been burgled, you shouldn’t touch anything until the police arrive.

‘Don’t touch me!’ she yelled.

touch somebody on the arm/leg etc

A hand touched her on the shoulder.

touch something to something

literary to move something so that it reaches something else with no space between the two things

She touched the handkerchief to her nose.

He touched his lips to her hair.

The Ngram says

It found "touch it with your lips", but not "touch your lips to it"

Are these roughly interchangeable?: "You don't touch the ball with your lips", "you don't touch your lips to / onto the ball"?

2 Answers 2


I have edited your question to highlight the word literary in the definition that uses to.

literary in a definition means that the expression is not used in normal conversational English, but is used in writing for literary effect... ie to create a particular atmosphere, rather than to convey meaning.

Looking at the two sentences you quoted:

you don't touch the ball with your lips
you don't touch your lips to / onto the ball

Both sentences are grammatically correct, but only the first one would ever be used in normal conversational English.

The second sentence uses a literary turn of phrase, but starting a sentence with you is certainly not literary. The sentence would not sound natural in any situation- either spoken or written.


No - you don't "touch to" something. Touch means direct contact with something, so it needs no direction. You might reach out to something in order to touch it, but once contact is made, that's it - you're touching it!

You might say instead:

You don't put your lips to the ball.

Touching something to something else is idiomatic, but it tends to describe a gentle touch - hence your example of someone touching their lips to someone else's hair. In my opinion as a native British English speaker, it doesn't seem right in the context of a ball.

  • Why in the dictionary "He touched his lips to her hair."
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 12:01
  • what about "don't touch the ball with your lips", is it a common expression in that situation?
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 12:19
  • @Tom, see my answer.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 12:20
  • @Tom I've added some detail - what I said was regarding the use of "touch to" as in "reach to" or "go to". You can touch something to something else but it doesn't seem to fit your example.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 12:44

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