I have a question about the phrase "point to something" when someone is pointing to somewhere on a map.

You are looking at a map with a friend, and she shows where she lives by putting the tip of her pen on a spot around the street she lives on. Which sentence can you use to describe her action?

She pointed her pen to the street she lives on.

She pointed to the street she lives on with her pen.

I looked up the word point in dictionaries and it seems to me you can say either type of sentence, but I am not sure which to use when someone is pointing to a map like this.

  • Grammatically I suppose either is fine, but as a native AmE speaker I would only ever say pointed her finger at or pointed with her pen and never vice-versa.
    – randomhead
    Jul 7 '21 at 11:31
  • The first sentence means she directed her pen in the direction of her street, for an unspecified reason. The second sentence means she indicated her street with her pen.
    – gotube
    Jul 8 '21 at 7:32

Both sentences are grammatically correct and convey the appropriate meaning. However, for the example given, I would say:

She pointed her pen at the street she lives on.

The reasons I prefer this wording include:

  • As a speaker of American English, it sounds more natural.
  • "Point at" is more clear than "point to"; "point to" can mean pointing towards an object, but it can also mean to guide someone to something. (Example: "Can you point me to the nearest gas station?")
  • "She pointed to the street she lives on with her pen." distances the words "pointed" and "pen." As I read the sentence, I initially assume the person is pointing with her finger. When the pen is mentioned at the end of the sentence, I am forced to adjust my mental image.
  • The different variations of "She pointed...with her pen" use more words. In everyday conversation, English speakers prefer shorter sentences.

In short, there are many ways to express the idea you wish to convey including the two sentences you provided. The differences are more about style than substance.

  • "She pointed out the street with her pen." (Point out = identify something by pointing at it.) Jul 7 '21 at 12:18

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