A man is standing in his own office holding a stack of papers. His boss interrupts him. They talk. After a while the man puts the stack of papers (down) on his desk.

In this particular context would it be more natural to include "down" do you think?

And would it be more natural to write "on the desk" than "on his desk"?

1 Answer 1


People don't do anything with (their) desk often enough to get any guidance from Google NGrams here, but I think this is a relevant usage chart...

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I think that's good enough to show that even when it's completely unnecessary / irrelevant to assign ownership to the specific chair / desk / whatever, in many contexts we often do so anyway.

As regards whether to include that (optional) preposition down after put, I'd say it makes little difference either way. Arguably if you do include it, you're slightly calling attention to the fact that he was previously holding the papers up (awkwardly?, with some effort?) so perhaps it more strongly alludes to the change of state. Which might suggest some (particularly good or bad) new plan emerged from talking to the boss, and our subject is now (metaphorically) "dropping" everything he was previously working on, to concentrate on the new task.

  • May I suggest a different angle? Putting the stack down marks the cessation of an activity involving the stack that began when he picked it up, whereas putting something on his desk (without 'down') refers to a complete, intentional activity.
    – Spiritman
    Feb 2, 2022 at 14:23
  • EDIT to the above (5-min limit expired!): Example: "Put the books on the shelf" involves picking them up, carrying them and putting them down on the shelf. 'Down' is included when referring specifically to the last part only.
    – Spiritman
    Feb 2, 2022 at 14:32
  • I wouldn't make to much of that "hypothetical" nuance of difference depending on whether optional preposition down is included on not. Or indeed the slightly different implications when using shelf rather than table, where syntactically speaking there's nothing remotely unusual about putting the books up on the shelf. In most contexts it makes absolutely no difference which if either of those prepositions are included. Feb 2, 2022 at 15:20

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