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Is there any difference in meaning between "to feed the dog biscuits" and "to feed the dog on biscuits"?

Are the following sentences correct?

  1. Biscuits are fed to the dog.
  2. The dog is fed with biscuits.
  3. The dog is fed biscuits.
  4. That cat feeds on little birds.
  5. What is the dog fed with?
  6. Who are biscuits fed to?
5

Most native speakers would recognise a distinction made by including the preposition or not...

1: She fed me leftovers
2: She fed me on leftovers

...where #1 might often simply mean she gave me some leftover food to eat on one or a few occasions - but I might also have been eating many other things (perhaps obtained from different sources).

But #2 very strongly implies leftovers was the only food I had (if it weren't for the leftovers she provided, I'd have starved to death).


Note that on is more likely than with in, say, What is your dog fed on? But it's not very idiomatic to phrase a question like that anyway (and even worse would be What is your baby fed on?).

You might ask a farmer what he feeds his chickens or pigs on/with, but the usage is a bit too "functional / commercial" for pets or babies - where you'd more likely ask something like What do you give them to eat? or What does she eat?

3

All the sentences are grammatically correct, but they do not have the same meaning (and the word “biscuit” has somewhat different meanings in British and American English).

I fed the dog biscuits

refers to a single past instance where I personally gave the dog biscuits to eat.

I fed the dog on biscuits

refers to a past course of conduct where the meals I gave or had given to the dog were almost always biscuits.

“Feed on” relates to diet. “Feed” means to provide food.

Both are grammatical, but quite different in meaning.

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