In this sentence from Animal Farm by George Orwell:

There were only four dissentients, the three dogs and the cat, who was afterwards discovered to have voted on both sides.

What does "on" mean?

I can't seem to find a proper explanation in dictionaries.

  • 3
    What is puzzling you? On is a preposition commonly used with side. It's true that we usually speak of voting for a candidate, but this seems to be a vote for or against an idea rather than an election. Feb 6 at 14:56
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    @Kate Bunting I know what vote on means. I'm trying to figure out the logic behind it. On might mean in the direction of or directed against or toward because of the word side, or it may mean having as the object or the goal of action, thought, desire, etc.. or none of them. I'm just not sure.
    – preachers
    Feb 6 at 16:34
  • 1
    'Placed' a vote on each side of the debate (imagining the two parties sitting on either side of the house, as in Parliament) - or that's how I understand it. Feb 6 at 17:09
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    @preachers Do you want to know the meaning of "on", or do you want someone to select the closest dictionary definition for you? These are not the same thing, and you seem to already know what it means. It's often the case that a dictionary will not capture every usage of a word, or that multiple usages are subsumed in one definition, but with an example sentence that only shows one of those usages
    – gotube
    Feb 7 at 1:24
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    @gotube I want someone to select the closest dictionary definition for me. Because dictionaries are the most reliable resource for us ESL learners, at least for me. It's not feasible to ask questions whenever I come across a problem. I have to rely on dictionaries. Those little words like "on, of, get, go, etc." in English, however, have way too many senses. I can't figure it out for myself sometimes, hence the question.
    – preachers
    Feb 7 at 11:02

1 Answer 1


vote on

You vote on a proposal/bill/decision. There are two sides: the one side is for it, and the other one is against it. These four animals voted twice, on both sides.

Both chambers plan to vote on that policy before January 15th.

He faces a vote on his future at an annual meeting next week.

The committee voted on the proposal, and accepted it unanimously.

Now that we've heard all the arguments for and against the proposal, shall we vote on it?

Similarly, you decide on a matter, you express an option on a subject. In this sense, on means dealing with the subject of; about; concerning (15).

on the side

Speaking metaphorically, voting draws a line between the supporters and the opposers. When you vote, you position yourself on one side of that line. In this sense, on means "expressing figurative placement or attachment (3)" and is derived from its main physical meaning "positioned at or resting against the outer surface of; attached to (2)".

  • 1
    I know vote on may be just a fixed phrase, I just want an authoritative explanation from dictionary to make sure the logic behind it. Thanks.
    – preachers
    Feb 6 at 16:39
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    @AndrewTobilko I disagree with your interpretation that it means "concerned with or relating to*: for that meaning, the sentence would have to be something like "There were only four dissentients, the three dogs and the cat, who was afterwards discovered to have voted the matter". It's actually the same meaning as in the sentence "Whose side are you on?".
    – JavaLatte
    Feb 7 at 12:38
  • @JavaLatte In Oxford dictionary, the example of "Whose side are you on?" is under the article of "used to show that somebody belongs to a group or an organization", which does not suit the sentence in question very well, doesn't it?
    – preachers
    Feb 7 at 13:51
  • @preachers the vote in Animal farm is about whether or not wild animals like rats are comrades. One group/side thinks that they are comrades, and another group/side thinks that they are not. The dogs belong to one group and nearly all of the other animals belong to the other group. The cat has divided loyalties, and votes twice- once on the comrades side, and once on the not-comrades side- "on both sides".
    – JavaLatte
    Feb 8 at 5:18

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