Is the usage of the phrase "be all over someone" natural in the below sentence:

After his suicide attempt his friends have been all over him to make sure he doesn't try to hurt himself again.

Does this mean that his friends have been with him a lot and very aware of his every move to make sure he doesn't try to hurt himself again?

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    No, I don't think that's a very natural use of the idiom. Usually to be all over someone implies being fascinated by / extremely attracted to / attentive of someone, but that meaning doesn't apply in your example (by "attentive" there, I mean "hanging on someone's every word"). A more likely construction for the context might be ...his friends have rallied round him to make sure... Or drifting further from the literal sense of your initial choice, ...have kept a [close] eye / watch on him... Dec 20, 2020 at 18:00
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    @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Incidentally, I have never heard "attentive of". I nearly invariably use "attentive to". Google Booksing it, I did find occurrences to back up the case for "attentive of". This grammar claims it is a "rare" usage.
    – Eddie Kal
    Dec 20, 2020 at 18:24
  • @EddieKal: I knew perfectly well that it was a "rare" usage when I wrote it. Are you suggesting that I should avoid uncommon (but still perfectly valid) usages to avoid confusing some learners? Personally I thought it was a good opportunity to "peripherally" present three consecutive adjectives with different associated prepositions, by way of showing the "attentive" reader that prepositions in English are very "flexible". Dec 20, 2020 at 18:29
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica No, that's absolutely not what I meant. On the contrary, I applaud your effort in presenting lesser used phrases. I am of the opinion that everybody is a learner, much like how everybody has an accent, and ELL shouldn't be the kids' table (vis-a-vis ELU). I, for one, learned something new from your first comment.
    – Eddie Kal
    Dec 20, 2020 at 18:53
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    Ty for your kind words! I will freely admit that I also often find I learn something new when I come here! There are many "strange" aspects to natural languages in general (and English in particular, as one of the most "mongrelised" languages around! :) But so often it turns out that because I've grown up with all these quirky features of English, I don't actually notice them until some learner flags them up here. Dec 20, 2020 at 19:01

1 Answer 1


Yes, this is a common colloquial usage, meaning that his friends were persistent in trying to help him keep from hurting himself. However, since it is colloquial language it's important to understand that it's not appropriate in formal contexts. You wouldn't use these terms when writing, unless you were writing casually to a friend who you know would understand them or writing to express dialog between two people speaking casually to each other colloquially.

A more standard or formal way of saying the same thing would be

After his suicide attempt his friends have worked tirelessly to make sure he doesn't try to hurt himself again.
After his suicide attempt his friends have been in constant contact with him to make sure he doesn't try to hurt himself again.

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