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The monster stands, transfixed, staring at the dead police officer. It starts jerking at his body as if to check that he really is dead. It then pulls him out of the chair and starts dragging him across the floor.

The monster is half human half animal. The intended meaning is that the monster starts shaking the body without pulling it anywhere. Can I use "jerking" and should it be followed by "at"? Or does it sound like the monster can't control its hands?

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    No, it's not very good to use jerking here. To jerk is close to to twitch, to shiver, to sneeze, etc. - both syntactically and semantically these are essentially intransitive verbs. That's to say it's more natural to say something jerks (all by itself) rather than someone jerks something. Which latter usage normally only occurs where "someone" has total control over how "something" moves (a puppeteer controlling his puppet using strings, for example). Better in your context would be something like It starts tugging at his body. Jan 4, 2021 at 13:59
  • (Note that the optional preposition in tugging / pulling / poking at something strongly implies NOT causing "something" to move to a different physical location.) Jan 4, 2021 at 14:06

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"Yanking" or "tugging" would be more appropriate here, as they are actions done by one thing to another. "Yanking" is more violent, "tugging" is rather gentle.

Beth quickly grabbed at Cody and yanked his arm, preventing him from falling off the cliff.

The girl tugged at/on her father's sleeve, trying to get his attention.

"Jerking" is typically used to describe an involuntary motion originating from the object/person.

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