I initially wanted to write "John Doe launched an offensive on Mr. X," as I understand that "John Doe launched an attack on Mr. X" is correct.

Yet, in search engines, it appears that "an offensive against someone" is far more common than "on someone," where "an attack against someone" and "on someone" are both very common, "on" being actually more common than "against."

Would you agree, in this context where it is directed at someone, that unlike "attack," "offensive" should be followed by "against" and not "on"?

  • 3
    Your mistake is to assume only one preposition is correct here. Although it's true that on is more common after attack, and against is more common after offensive, this doesn't imply there's anything "wrong" with using either preposition with the "less favoured" noun. Syntactically, both prepositions work in both contexts, and the specific stylistic choice chosen in any particular context makes no difference to the meaning. Oct 3, 2021 at 15:44

1 Answer 1


Middle East Syrian army steps up offensive on rebel redoubt in southwestern city.

Reuters news agency

Not at all. On or against can be used with offensive, which, of course, is military or like a military offensive.

An attack on or against a person is right. Offensive would not be right unless it was against the person's power, politically or militarily.

For example: see the Philippino dictator.

The widespread killings commenced ever since Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte launched an offensive against drug dealers and others involved in the drug business.

Read more at World Religion News: "Duterte’s Zero-Tolerance Drug Policy Has Resulted in Almost 4,000 Deaths"


  • Thanks a lot. "Offensive would not be right unless it was against the person's power, politically of militarily": I suppose that even metaphorically, it would still not be right when employed against the person's power culturally? If John Doe denigrates Mr. X, a famous and influential writer, in several press articles for example, would you confirm that "John Doe launched an offensive on / against Mr. X" is incorrect?
    – Miles
    Oct 3, 2021 at 14:10
  • 1
    @Miles Sorry, I can't do that. Neither would be incorrect as it is a militaristic image. offensive on/against always carries military overtones. attack does not necessarily do so.
    – Lambie
    Oct 3, 2021 at 14:20
  • Thanks. And sorry, I tend to think my contexts are crystal-clear when they are not, I will be more careful in the future.
    – Miles
    Oct 3, 2021 at 15:11
  • @Miles There's no need to apologize. :)
    – Lambie
    Oct 3, 2021 at 15:12

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