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In Marriage Story, Bert (the lawyer) says:

"If we give on LA right now and then try to make the best deal possible, I think we can get her to give on other fronts"

What the heck does give on mean? The closest definition I could see for give -not give on- is to surrender. If that is the meaning, as I assume it is here, then shouldn't it be "If we give LA... we can get her to give other fronts." What function is the preposition "on" serving?

I'm running more and more into similar unfamiliar phrases that are hard to look up. Who gets to decide which goes and which stays? It just feels sometimes that there is no hard rule and someone can just come up with a random phrase.

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Give on is not really a phrase in its own right, it just happens to arise here. The verb give is used with a similar meaning to the surrender you found, although weaker and not so 'absolute' as that - it is more like concede or compromise.

If we compromise on LA right now... we can get her to compromise on other fronts

The on serves to distinguish between giving / conceding the actual thing mentioned, versus giving / conceding on the topic of or on the matter of the actual thing mentioned.

If we give LA right now

If we give on LA right now

In the former, the speaker is proposing to literally give (away) LA - which is clearly ridiculous as they do not own LA, so they could not do so. The latter establishes that LA is a topic. A similar use of "on" is found with other verbs besides give (hence me saying "give on" is not really a phrase). For example, the difference between

We need to reflect the information

We need to reflect on the information

As for your final paragraph, there is no central authority for the language. People do indeed just come up with phrases and the population at large decide which goes and which stays. Welcome to the anarchy of English :)

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  • @stevekeirestu Thank you for your answer!
    – Bahram
    Feb 11, 2020 at 8:17

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