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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, 2020 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 Oct 31, 2020 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, 2020 at 12:10
  • @jwh20 I didn't say it was. Oct 31, 2020 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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