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In dictionaries, "chew on your food" and "chew your food" are the same. "Suck on your thumb" and "suck your thumb" are the same.

But I notice that American people often say "chew on your food" and "suck on your thumb" instead of "chew your food" and "suck your thumb"?

I think "chew your food" and "suck your thumb" are more obvious, why do they use "on"?

Is there any subtle intention here?

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    Perhaps it's a regional practice but I can't say that I have ever heard a native speaker say "chew on your food" or "suck on your thumb" in the sense that you are using here. The common usage in American English is "chew your food" as a parent might say to a child or similarly "suck your thumb". – jwh20 Oct 30 '20 at 18:11
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    I'm not American, but to me to chew on something suggests that you are not going to swallow it. See idioms.thefreedictionary.com/chew+on – Kate Bunting Oct 31 '20 at 9:10
  • @KateBunting For example you might "chew on" a toothpick but you would "chew" gum. So that is not a hard-and-fast rule. – jwh20 Oct 31 '20 at 12:10
  • @jwh20 I didn't say it was. – Kate Bunting Oct 31 '20 at 12:37
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Perhaps it's a regional practice but I can't say that I have ever heard a native speaker say "chew on your food" or "suck on your thumb" in the sense that you are using here.

The common usage in American English is "chew your food" as a parent might say to a child or similarly "suck your thumb".

For most native speakers the phrase "chew on your food" would seem awkward.

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