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I know we can use the phrase "turn around something" to mean "cause something to face the opposite direction" like in "He turned around the phone to see the camera." What I wonder is, whether we can say "turn around something" to mean "revolve/rotate around something". I am asking you this because I could not find examples of this kind of usage in dictionaries. Let me make up some example sentences to help you understand what I mean better:

Can we use "turn around" to mean "rotate/revolve around" in sentences like these?

"Jordan turned around his defender and got the pass."

"The lion turned around its prey once before attacking it."

"The world turns around the sun."

"The motorcycle convoy started turning around the pole."

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Some of your examples sound OK to me, but this meaning is probably generally avoided because of the ambiguity with the other meaning you mention.

The only one that sounds a bit odd is this, and for semantic rather than grammatical reasons:

The world turns around the sun.

When we talking about something "turning" in this sense, we're generally implying that it was going in a straight line, and then changed direction. That would make sense in your other three examples, but the world didn't get to the sun and then turn left.

It reminds me of the joke about a magic tractor: "It drove down the road and turned into a field." The pun being that "turned into" can mean "transformed into", but can also just be the ordinary sense of "turned" with "into" just being part of its destination.

As a side note:

He turned around the phone to see the camera.

The more common word order would be "He turned the phone around to see the camera".

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I'd say no. Someone might be able to figure out what you were trying to say in your examples, but normally when we say "Bob turned around", we mean, "he faced in the opposite direction", not "he walked in a circle around some other object".

This is, by the way, the difference between "rotate" and "revolve". In astronomy, at least, to "rotate" is to remain in place but to face in a different direction, to spin around a central axis. To "revolve" is to orbit around some central body. Like "the Earth rotates on its axis" but "the Earth revolves around the Sun".

In common usage, I think "rotate" always has this meaning of spinning on an axis, but "revolve" can mean to circle around a central point, or it can mean the same as rotate.

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  • Thank you. Unlike you, Jeffrey Kemp says “rotate” can be used to mean “circle around a point” except in astronomy. I feel they are pretty synonymous in common usage also. Jeffrey’s answer: english.stackexchange.com/questions/122469/… – Fire and Ice Jul 13 at 14:52
  • Well, if you look here, thefreedictionary.com/rotate, I don't see any such definition. Well, maybe depending on how you interpret some of their definitions. But this is the sort of subtle distinction that's difficult to express in a dictionary definition. And does ANYBODY use the word to mean "circle around a point"? Maybe. Probably. I don't think that's correct, but "proving" a definition of a word is a tricky problem. – Jay Jul 13 at 15:52

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