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I am aware the meaning of "trip"

to lose your balance after knocking your foot against something when you are walking or running

I guess this is called "tripped over a cable"

enter image description here

I see some people say "tripped on a cable". A post explains the difference as

tripped on just says where the trip occurred. You can trip on the step without the step being in any way defective. Tripped over indicates exactly what caused the trip. The cable was where the tripper didn't expect it to be.

I don't really understand that. It seems that both "tripped over a cable" and "tripped on a cable" indicate the trip occurred at the place where that cable was put.

In case that the cable example turns out be a bad example, here is another case

enter image description here

a post describes the image as

I tripped over this 1 inch stone lift ...

Does the following version mean the same thing as the one above?

I tripped on this 1 inch stone lift ...

Could someone please give a hint? Thanks in advance.


Google Ngram shows that both expression is used.

enter image description here

  • Things start to unravel when you say I guess this is called "tripped over a cable". More likely we'd say your picture shows someone who caught his foot in a loose cable (which might cause him to momentarily stumble, but he probably wouldn't actually fall to the ground in that situation, so he wouldn't have really "tripped over"). But really you're just overanalysing the usage. If it helps, think of "the trip" as specifically referring to the exact point where one thing (a ledge, a cable) impedes the natural movement of another thing (a leg or foot walking past).. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 2 at 11:49
  • Did you read the rest of the conversation? The contributors to that thread explain that it isn't a hard and fast rule. 'Trip on' may indicate either the place or the thing the foot catches on. – Kate Bunting Apr 2 at 11:51
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I think both can be used interchangeably.

If one was to be really super pedantic, and want a way to split them, you could say that using "tripped on" places the blame directly on that object (eg: cable, step), whereas tripped over could be more ambiguous as to what caused the trip - "I tripped over the rug" could be interpreted as I tripped (on some unknown object), and then proceed to stumble over the space occupied by the rug.

But in practice, both uses are fine to describe the same thing.

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I think there is a complication here because both "tripped on" and "tripped over" can have multiple meanings:

"tripped on" can mean either that the mentioned thing was the thing that caused one to trip, or it can just mean that one was "on" (on top of, or at the same location as) the thing when one tripped, so "tripped on a cable" probably means that the cable caused you to trip, but "tripped on the stairs" doesn't necessarily mean that the stairs caused the trip, you might just be saying that's where you were when you tripped.

"tripped over" can mean either that (again) the mentioned thing caused one to trip, or it could just mean that when you tripped you went over something in the process of falling, etc. So, "tripped over a cable" probably means that the cable caused the trip (the same as "on"), but "tripped over the wall" probably doesn't mean that the wall caused the trip, but rather that something else caused you to trip and in the process of tripping, you ended up going "over the wall".

So both "trip on" and "trip over" can mean that the thing caused one to trip, or they might not. Which one is meant is often a bit ambiguous, but usually not that hard to figure out from context and what the thing in question is.

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